“The Truth Effect” by Anne Mortensen

The Truth Effect

Anne Mortensen
Puente Press (2021)
ISBN 9781907688027
Reviewed by Lee Barckmann for Reader Views (12/2021)

“The Truth Effect” is the story of a fearless woman journalist, Kelly, who’s trying to warn England of the government’s plan to impose an artificially intelligent-powered thought control regime in 2030. Set in London, it extrapolates about the advances of IT-biometric technology, particularly the potential connections between human consciousness and the digital information systems that are sure to be developed.

The story focuses on the overall technological underpinnings of how a Western government could become a techno-fascist dictatorship. Kelly’s journey, which occurs over a couple of months, is a continual unveiling of mechanisms used to control her and, by extension, the rest of society. Her trouble begins with Kelly’s research and production of a breaking news story about the corruption and drug trafficking of a big shot with government connections, only to find that her story is later spiked and another story is substituted that praises the horrid man. She had collected hard evidence, but it disappears from the digital record, and from there the chase begins.

Kelly is forced to undergo an examination in the “echo chamber” where wires are attached to her head in order to perform brain scanning. Journalists must undergo these sessions in order for the higher-ups to read their true intentions. It is here Kelly witnesses her colleague and mentor tortured and taken away for what some say was an attempt to insert a virus into the Zone Computers to prevent thought crimes from being introduced. Kelly is released, but kept on a very short leash; her supervisors, while saying they are trying to protect her, pull her off the political-criminal beat. Of course, she’s secretly continuing her investigation even though she knows she’s being watched.

The story stays tightly focused on Kelly, with only occasional scenes presented of others plotting outside her earshot. The author seldom pulls back the POV “camera” to give us a wide-angle view of the situation. Kelly’s search is for the real “human” power behind it all, but each encounter leads relentlessly to another piece of the puzzle. There is a shadowy “resistance.” There are fighters who have their own territory called, “Freedom Camp,” and it is not clear if they are rebels or a paramilitary arm of the government, itself. There are “Malstroms” who are genetically engineered creatures that function as the muscle for the “fighters,” and there’s an “Elite Squad” which works directly for the government.

The story is about and driven by technology. Jerko is the Big Brother “Alexa-like” eye on all the walls. Cicada is the messaging app used by insiders. The INNS system, the AI system in the echo chamber, DreamMaker software that can scan the dermis, a biofeedback mechanism that owns AI-biological telepathy, and the list goes on. Physical security is lax, and people are able to escape from custody. Kelly is constantly being captured, bound, thrown into a heap, and traumatically interrogated, but then seems to easily escape with the help of others who then re-incarcerate her themselves. She always eventually finds freedom, or sometimes is allowed to go with threats on her head.

Ms. Mortensen has her own style and verve. The pieces all fit together at the end, and she writes with clear prose and a solid voice. The story is long and complicated, but the author drives it seamlessly with seventy-five short chapters and an epilogue. Her message is important, and her warning that we are about to lose a “free press” is one of the most critical issues (other than climate change) facing us today.

The eventual arch-villain of the story sums up the reason behind his or her behavior: “There is no stopping the technological transformation of society…everything the mind can think up is natural.” This is the warning. However, the story could and should have been told with more variety in its pacing, and more emphasis should’ve been placed on character development rather than the overabundance of technology details.

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