I received a free copy of this ebook to review from NetGalley, on behalf of the publisher. It will be released 1 January 2014.
Solomon the Peacemaker, by Hunter Welles, is like nothing I’ve ever read. It’s written as the transcript of an interrogation. Vincent was arrested for something terrible, though we won’t know what it is until near the end of the book. The words of the interrogator have been excised, but Vincent’s dialog is so well written that you can work out the other side of the conversation. Because Vincent insists on telling his story in his own way, the story rolls out beautifully—until Welles hits us with the last twists of the tale and turns everything on its head.
In his first session, Vincent talks about how he and his first wife came to meet the Preacher. They’re a normal couple of their time, the late 2100s. They work. They go out. They love each other. They’re not very political, though they refuse to use the humanoid robots that other folks living in the Nodes have. When they meet the Preacher, something about the man’s works spark Yael’s desire to do something but her husband is still somewhat lukewarm. The Preacher convinces Yael to go Outside, beyond the Nodes, to see what life is like when it’s not controlled by the AI, the Peacemaker.
No one seems to be sure where the Peacemaker came from, but the treaty that gave it authority to make international decisions and deploy nonlethal forces to enforce its rule. A Host is chosen every seven years to replace the debilitated human that has been carrying the Peacemaker around for the previous term. There is a Peacemaker Council, but the AI has no oversight. The Preacher believes the AI to be an abomination, something to be feared and destroyed. Vincent asks Yael to stay behind when the Preacher proposes another trip Outside, a request that turns out to save her life. The Preacher organized a suicidal attack on the Host House. It’s not supposed to work in the traditional sense. It’s supposed to show people that the Host will respond violently when forced.
When people fail to change their minds and Yael falls into a deep, fatal depression, Vincent grows to hate the whole system even more. By the time Vincent reveals his crime, its hard not to feel sympathy for him. The Peacemaker Treaty doesn’t allow for change. The people who live in the Nodes are too comfortable to examine the AI’s ethics or worry about what happens when a human’s mind merges with machine. But then, I also ended up wondering if what Preacher and Vincent are working towards is really the best thing. How do you fight against peace, even if it comes at the nonexistent hands of an AI?
Solomon the Peacemaker is a fascinating novel, for so many reasons. The structure works so well. It’s so convincingly written that you can easily imagine Vincent sitting in a sterile room with his faceless interrogator. The tangled ethics intrigue me. I actually wish that this book were a little longer.