Book Review : The Utopia Experiment - A Ludlum Covert-One Novel


{A Covert-One Series Novel written by Kyle Mills This is the latest in the Covert-One series, featuring Jon Smith and Randi Russell. .}

THE PLOT
What happens when all information goes online, the large majority of an individual's information is on the internet, or on connected computer systems? What happens when you get one device that can combine the power of your most advanced computing device, your cell-phone as well as other electronic devices  - all that have been invented - into one powerful device? This is precisely the concept of the latest in the Covert-One series of novels. This device - called The Merge - has a military version as well, For the assessment of this device suitability to US Military requirement, Lt Col Jon Smith is called in, who gets taken in by its effectivity and power almost immediately. 

As each subsequent test of the device - including rigorous field testing - gives superlative results, the US Armed Forces move forward with its adoption. Enter Randi Russell... who has, simultaneously. in a parralel sub-plot, being investigating a mass-murder of two villages in Afghanistan. This investigation leads to troubling questions for Randi, as she finds that one village behaved in a strange fashion - they did not fight back despite being armed almost to the teeth. Further investigation leads to the discovery that all who didnt fight were equipped with The Merge. How is The Merge connected with these murders? How can an essentially benign electronic device play a role in this? What is the reason behind it? Read the book to find out!


THE ANALYSIS
First off, this is not the best in Covert-One series. It could have been better, much better. Having said that, at least the characterisation is spot-on; this time, the character plot of Jon, Randi Russell is within the overall boundaries set originally in the first few novels. Jon, unsure at first, increasingly confident as the story picks up; showing flashes of insight and brilliance under pressure is the Jon we have come to know and like. Randi, tough, independent, frustrating and action-oriented is the Randi we identify the series with. 

Unlike other Covert-One Novels, this one is a bit slow-paced and lacks the breakneck and reckless action that is the hallmark of this series. I found myself skipping paragraphs in a few instances, and flipping pages to see if what I was reading is relevant to the story. This lack of pace, and lack of binding in the middle section of the book is the major drawback in this book. This is in large part due to the nature of the plot; this time it is not a simple case of a biological weapon that is the cause of the trouble. The slightly convoluted nature of the plot, as well as its relative complexity, is the main cause of this. Aside from that, another reason is the threat takes time to build up, unlike in other cases, wherein you are into a major international threat within the first 50 pages. 

This is not your typical Covert-One action novel; but is a novel that can be liked by all who are into fiction - and like convoluted plots and slow build-up of the story line. To Covert-One aficionados, the return to accepted parameters of Jon and Randi will be enough to take you through the novel. In fact, I would not classify this book  as an action novel at all, as there is precious little in the way of action in the entire book. And yet, it just manages to hold your attention throughout, despite slagging slightly in the middle section. 

From an Indian or Asian perspective, there are a couple of major gaffes - but these are not central to the story, and can thus be ignored. In fact, they are not connected with the story at all, but are instead value judgements. For example - the references to Afghans being fighting like this for thousands of years is a clear indication of lack of back-ground research into Afghanistan : thousands of years ago, the land known as Afghanistan was called "Gandhar", and was a Hindu Kingdom. It later became a Greek-Hindu stronghold - and the strife is relatively recent in origin! As another example, I have difficulty in believing that an Afghan can have a name such as Aditya! Muslims do have that name - but an Afghan? I doubt it. Anyways, this is irrelevant, and can thus be ignored. 

All  in all, this is an eminently readable and interesting novel with a very interesting concept behind it. I rate it 3 stars out of 5; to be fair, it can even be rated 4 stars out of 5. I am doffing a star for the lack of pace, since my expectation was of a fast-paced novel. The most interesting part is the concept of the novel - which is what I conclude this book review with. A very timely novel this, coming as it is in an age when the internet rules, and privacy of information is a serious question. Just how much information should be online? Just how can it be misused? Food for thought...

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