Published by Enclave Publishing, Freeheads on February 1, 2013
Genres: Fiction, Christian, Suspense, Speculative
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am the mask. The mask is me.
America has fallen. Remnants of states cling together. The Pacific Northwest is now PacNorth.
Democracy has gone off the rails. Citizens still vote, but only to vote away anything--or anyone--they don't like. Long-term wisdom loses to short-term pleasure.
And the Collectors come in the night.
Radial is a Collector. The instrument of the will of the people. You get voted away...Radial makes you disappear. The system works, and he is its servant. The rule of the people is the highest form of human government. He is a believer.
Until he is asked to collect someone who should never, ever be voted away.
The world—or at least the PacNorth part of it—has settled into utopia. Technology has automated many of life’s daily functions, such as driving, and there exists a perfectly democratic society. For a while now, the northwest portion of the former United States, has governed itself through a strictly democratic and progressive process: vote on everything. If something gets too many negative votes, it’s eliminated. Ski resorts, for example, were voted out because of the potential for injury. One of the first things to go was religion, which certainly had no place in a utopia.
Radial Crane is an integral part of this new world. He makes it all work behind the scenes. Because sometimes it’s not a concept or an activity that gets voted. Sometimes it’s people. Often it’s people. People who are voted “inconvenient” to the PacNorth’s utopia. It’s Radial’s job to collect the incons and deliver them to the appropriate facilities. He is the Mask: authorized enforcer of utopia.
Stories of a somewhat-post-apocalyptic society are nothing new, nor is the Big Brother concept of constant surveillance, nor is the idea of democracy gone wrong. But Nietz manages to pull the three together in an entertaining and compelling storyline that is both fresh and fun. Often, the future-Big-Brother-state is portrayed as a totalitarian government that oppresses the people, but here Nietz focuses on the opposite. The surveillance state has been voted on by the people. It’s what they want. It maintains the utopia. And, by and large, the people are happy with the system. But Radial begins to see through the veneer of utopia into the horrifying reality that his society has willed themselves not to see.
The only problem I have with the novel is that events happen all too easily. Radial’s switch from “I am the Mask, the Mask is me” to vigilante determined to overthrow the system seems sudden and rushed. What should have been a conflicting and difficult decision instead comes across as a spur of the moment decision based on a guilt-tripping little girl. Radial is also able to gain access and avoid capture way too easily, something the story itself notes (SPOILER WARNING: Radial has a secret protector…but he too is relatively unexplained). Instead of the story carrying along the theme, at many instances it seems that the theme carries along the story, with events (such as Radial’s short and futile trip to an incon facility) happening to make a thematic point. I would have liked to have seen a deeper exploration of the apathy of those within the incon center, as well as a more complex journey for Radial.
Despite this, Mask functions as a good quick read. It’s singular storyline and linear nature carries it along quickly to the end. Honestly, I think Nietz had a great concept and didn’t quite write it to his potential (as seen in his DarkTrench trilogy), but Mask is still an entertaining read and a solid addition to his bibliography.
UPDATE: Since the original publication of this review with Mask‘s release in 2013, Kerry Nietz has released an updated ebook version subtitled: Author’s Preferred Text. I’m sure there’s a good story behind that…