Tense. Taut. Science.

The Forever Man: A Near-Future Thriller - Pierre Ouellette


”Most of us spend our lives waiting for something. The last thing we wait for is to die.”

The thing with being a rabid consumer of all things pop culture is that it takes a bit of effort not to get distracted whenever you recognise the similarities. And while these are probably largely unintentional on the part of the author, any scene or exchange feels palpably reminiscent from a different book, any character seems like an amalgam of this movie hero and another’s protagonist. This didn’t necessarily prevent me from enjoying this book, but it did get a little exhausting. 

The plot operates with some of the elements in Gattaca andElysium with shades of Neal Shusterman’s Unwind series in the latter half. Every time Thomas Zed walks in, I get a mental picture of Mr. Burns from The Simpsons without fail. And since this is “hard” science fiction (a sub-genre I just learned), I had to tap back into my old Molecular Biology lessons. Because Ouellette knows kung-fu. Science Kung-fu.

So yes, exhausting. 

Johnny Anslow just made a breakthrough with his research in Molecular Genetics which could possibly spell the unlocking of the secret to eternal life. But he gets entangled with a host of powerful and dangerous people, led by a mysterious man holding fort in a research facility with the means to either make Johnny powerful and dangerous himself or refuse to give in to his demands and make him disappear instead. Guess which of the two happens?

His brother Lane is a street-smart cop recently forced into retirement by his age. With the help of a powerful and righteous ally, Lane follows the trail of his brother’s disappearance leading him to discover what the highly secure gates of the rich and entitled are hiding from the desolate dystopic world. 

I have very little to complain about Ouellette’s imagination of a peri-dystopic America, I think it is one of the most well-formed and richly detailed I’ve read in a while. It’s a shame I cannot possibly capture it without divulging the entire story but it was pretty impressive. I liked how this portrayed a country on the cusps of anarchy and evolution while also acknowledging the rest of the world’s participation in it. As we follows Lane on his mission to find his brother, the book manages to present the broad strata of its society. How the spectrum grows more and more disparate from the present, the impact of the dystopia spanning from negligible (in prison) to extreme (behind the wealthy gated communities) was quite interesting.

A few might be put off by the bioscience jargon, and I thought the author’s a little bit of a Clinical Anatomy fanboy, but I thought it did a pretty good job in making it palatable and interesting. To me anyway.

A prion is a preacher of chemical perversion, teaching normal proteins how to reinvent themselves by folding in an aberrant manner. The new converts then spread the word to their neighbours, until entire cells are gradually glutted with a twisted new order.

There was a crime noir feel to the narrative which is something new and fascinating for me. Most of the characters were likeable (my favourite being Rachel and Warhead, the quadruple amputee slash frustrated porn star) and those that felt like excess baggage didn’t really bother me so much. 

Lane as a protagonist felt like an aggregate of interesting, unrealised potential. There were a lot of things I wished he’d chosen to do instead of dwelling on those boating flashbacks. I suppose at some level, it’s a reflection of how integral to his character being responsible for something or someone is but I could really just be overthinking things again. But in terms of a hero to root for, he does the job well enough to make me care for his well-being, which is of paramount importance to enjoying The Forever Man seeing as the book relies mostly on the adrenaline-infused intensity of Lane surviving pursuit. Though admittedly, Ouellette’s haunting and lyrical prose deserves some honourable mention. Makes me feel like I’m a legit literary fiction reader.

As he retreats into that twilight on the border of somnolence, the ticks of the clock fade away and only the rocks remain, little subtractive pulses that reverse the cruel vectors of time. The pulses become integers, and the integers become years, and the years become burning posts impaled in a featureless desert full of yellow sky.

It was a good enough book but in the end, I felt there was a disconnect between the sci-fi aspects and the dystopia. I liked the grit of the first act and the tension in the second but I found myself blazing through the third. Soon as I finished I had that rapid thrum you get from reading something so exciting and action-packed with a side of emptiness. The Elysium-esque was a little obscure amidst all that massively detailed and well-researched science of living forever. It’s somewhere there but you have to wade through Lane’s flashbacks the unrealised sexual tension between him and Rachel, Autumn and Zed’s soporific story and all the political backstabbing and manoeuvring between Rachel, her megalomaniac boss Harlan Green and the ambitious gangster The Bird (yup I’m singing Bird is the Word in my brains too).

I was also left confused with the order of certain scenes midway through the book though I am not quite sure if that’s an A) a creative writing thing; B) an uncorrected proof thing or C) a reading too fast because holy shit people are gonna die thing. So benefit of the doubt I’m going to go with C, though I did read it back and there really were moments that made me wonder if teleportation has been invented in this future.

But overall: Cougar Pills, Flying Super Smelling Robots and an Armadillo named Rocky? Who says no to that?

Review Copy courtesy of the publishers. Quotes taken from an uncorrected proof.