VACANT FIRE is a tense and often disturbing near-future thriller that pulls in physics and genetics to illuminate the darker aspects of humanity’s social and political flaws.
Physicist and engineer Alan Fisher stumbles on a strange quantum phenomenon that works on most people when they look into his device, but fails for about 10% of the population. A parallel story follows Harold Mitters, a young man being groomed for leadership in the “new alt-right”.
Quickly, social media starts using the terms non-observer and zombie to describe and then discriminate against the minority that don’t interact with the devices. As Fisher’s device gains notoriety and begins creating social stresses, he’s recruited into the government’s secret DARPA facility where he’s posted to a team tasked with understanding his discovery. Meanwhile, Mitters and his group of alt-right neo-Nazi, psychopaths, and garden-variety racists jump on the phenomena to add zombies to the list of groups they hate. Maybe even more disturbing, “normal” people, businesses, and even families begin discriminating against the non-observers.
As Fisher and his DARPA team race to discover what his device actually measures, the world decides (with little reason) that the non-observers have no souls and are therefore not truly human. As the ramifications of this begin to emerge, a group of greedy industrialists, politicians, and military leaders launch a plan to breed these “zombies” for their own uses. Not surprisingly, Harold Mitters and the alt-right are involved.
Author Ray Gardener pulls no punches in showing just how evil and nasty people can be. The various alt-right characters not only throw the “N” word around frequently, they perform multiple atrocities and are sickeningly deplorable. Yet, even they aren’t as chillingly evil and amoral as the cynical politicians, lawyers, and corporate CEOs in the cabal.
VACANT FIRE is a huge novel, clocking in at more than 670 pages, but Gardener manages to keep the tension high throughout. The “bad guys” are truly malignant, but somehow they don’t quite cross into cartoonish evil, where they’d be less threatening. The “good guys” are likewise flawed, which simply makes the reader root for them a bit harder.
VACANT FIRE is a tense and often disturbing near-future thriller that examines science, discrimination, and just how thin society’s veneer of acceptance and tolerance really is. A gripping and entertaining read.
~J.V. Bolkan for IndieReader