Review: The Forever Watch by David Ramirez

forever watch by david ramirezFormat read: ebook provided by Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genre: science fiction
Length: 336 pages
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books (St. Martin’s/Macmillan)
Date Released: April 22, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

All that is left of humanity is on a thousand-year journey to a new planet aboard one ship, The Noah, which is also carrying a dangerous serial killer…

As a City Planner on the Noah, Hana Dempsey is a gifted psychic, economist, hacker and bureaucrat and is considered “mission critical.” She is non-replaceable, important, essential, but after serving her mandatory Breeding Duty, the impregnation and birthing that all women are obligated to undergo, her life loses purpose as she privately mourns the child she will never be permitted to know.

When Policeman Leonard Barrens enlists her and her hacking skills in the unofficial investigation of his mentor’s violent death, Dempsey finds herself increasingly captivated by both the case and Barrens himself. According to Information Security, the missing man has simply “Retired,” nothing unusual. Together they follow the trail left by the mutilated remains. Their investigation takes them through lost dataspaces and deep into the uninhabited regions of the ship, where they discover that the answer may not be as simple as a serial killer after all.
What they do with that answer will determine the fate of all humanity in this thrilling page turner.

My Review:

If you threw Gorky Park, Blade Runner, one of Robin Cook’s medical thrillers and Anne McCaffrey’s The Ship Who Sang into a blender, you might come up with something like The Forever Watch–but it probably wouldn’t be half as good.

Not even if you added in elements of The Matrix and Madeline Ashby’s Suited. It’s not just that all of those elements are in The Forever Watch, but that they are melded into a single story that left me gasping in marvel at the end.

I’m having a hard time letting this one go. I’m having an even harder time figuring out how to encapsulate the experience.

The story starts with familiar concepts. Hana Dempsey is a City Planning engineer on the generational ship Noah. Her job, her entire department’s job, is to make the city more energy efficient, while still being livable, so that the ship will have enough resources to reach Canaan. In other words, the promised land.

The mission is to save the human race. The ship is over two centuries out from a destroyed Earth, and has eight centuries yet to travel. That’s a long time for hundreds of thousands of human beings to be trapped inside a flying tin can — no matter how big or well designed the can might be.

Perpetuating the human species is not even left to chance. Every woman is assigned Breeding Duty, where she spends the entire pregnancy in a medically induced coma. She is supposed to remember nothing of the process. The child might not even be hers. She’ll certainly never see him or her.

Hana Dempsey comes back from her Breeding Duty with a sense that her life is as empty as she is. Duty is no longer enough.

Her friend, Leonard Barrens, tries to help her fill that void with helping him on a personal quest. Barrens is a cop, and he’s been quietly looking into a series of gruesome and inexplicable murders that no one seems to be investigating. Instead of being looked into, or even merely filed away, all trace of these murders is being systematically wiped from the system.

Barrens needs Hana’s skills to help him hack the vast computer system, the Nth Web, in order to find whatever traces are left. His mentor was one of the victims of what appears to be a serial killer named “Mincemeat” for the way he leaves his victims, and Barrens feels compelled to discover why the evidence keeps disappearing.

Hana gets involved because she needs something to absorb her. And because she has always cared for Barrens more than she is willing to admit. In the testing enforced caste system on the Noah, the differences between a cop and a manager in the City infrastructure are huge.

Hana and Barrens only know each other because Barrens rescued her after an assault. He makes her feel safe. She makes him feel cared for. But she’s used to Barrens being there in her darkest moments, and she’s in one now. His quest gives her something to do, something to be take her out of her empty self.

And finally a way for them to reach out from beyond their society and self-imposed barriers for each other.

Until the secrets that they uncover tear not just them, but their entire world, asunder.

Escape Rating A+: I loved this book so much that I immediately started inflicting it on other people–my husband read it in one sitting (it’s 500 pages!) and now a friend has started to devour it.

The Forever Watch exemplifies some of the best of science fiction, in that as soon as you read you start thinking about the society and what might have brought the race to this sorry pass, and it drives you crazy because the way things have worked out make you uncomfortable. Yet it’s impossible to stop reading, because that same discomfort makes you desperate to figure out why this is the way that society went.

It doesn’t seem logical, and yet it all hangs together perfectly. Even more amazing, every single bit of where it seems that things make no sense within that society, are all resolved at the end, and in a way that upholds the willing suspension of disbelief.

What lengths would we go to in order to save the human race? How far do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few? What secrets are so horrible that suppressing them is better for society than full knowledge, and who has the right to decide? How much can be justified by the cold equations of survival?

You will end up with more questions than answers, but you will not be able to get this book out of your head.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

9 Rings, 8 Planets, 7 Dwarfs, 6 Publishers

List the names of the Seven Dwarfs. Go ahead, do it.

If you’re like most people, you have to tick the names off on your fingers, and you’ll forget one or two, usually either Bashful or Doc, because they don’t fit the “-py” naming convention the rest of them do.

What about those “Big 6” publishers everyone is talking about? Can you name them?

Even in the library world, in spite of all the recent discussion about how the Big 6 are deciding whether and how to lend ebooks to libraries, most people can’t. Not because they’re not important, but because the names aren’t the way we know them. We don’t think of the publisher all that much until one of them withdraws their ebooks from the library market, as Penguin did late last week.

What we know are their books. When there is a title that patrons want, and we can’t buy it, that’s when we are reminded who the “Big 6” are.

This is one librarian’s guide to the “Big 6” publishers, based on the titles they publish.

1. Hachette Book Group

We never see the name Hachette. The names we see are the names of their imprints, particularly Grand Central Publishing and Little, Brown and Company.

Hachette dropped out of the library market in 2009, so their backlist is still in library ebook catalogs, but not their new books.

Current titles on the New York Times bestseller list from Hachette that are not available:






2. HarperCollins

HarperCollins is the publisher with the famous, or infamous “Rule of 26”. Every copy purchased after they changed their licensing terms to libraries last year is only available for 26 checkouts, then the library needs to purchase another copy. But some availability is perhaps better than no availability.

In addition to the publishing imprints with the name “Harper” in the title, HarperCollins also includes the publisers William Morrow and Avon.

Here are a few examples of current NYT bestsellers that are affected by the 26-checkout limit:






3. Macmillan

Macmillan has always just said “no” to libraries.

But it isn’t just the name Macmillan, because the name Macmillan covers St. Martin’s Press. And Henry Holt, Farrar Straus & Giroux and Minotaur. Also Tor, a highly respected science fiction and fantasy publisher, as well as Feiwel & Friends, a children’s publisher.

There have been many, many Macmillan titles that libraries have never been able to purchase, including these current titles:






4. Penguin Group

Penguin has just exited the library ebook marketplace. As of this writing, any titles licensed by libraries before Penguin’s departure on February 10, 2012 will remain available, but no new content will be added.

Penguin Group includes Penguin, Putnam, Prentice-Hall and Puffin, a childrens’ publisher. But also Viking Press and Dutton, as well as Ace and Berkley, two well-known mass-market paperback publishers.

Because Penguin stopped licensing new content to libraries in November 2011, the impact of their departure has already been felt with the unavailability of these titles:






5. Random House

Random House represents the “good guys” in the library ebook market. They have recently reconfirmed their commitment to license ebooks to libraries, although they have stated that there will be a rise in the price. This is possibly the first time that a price increase has been treated as good news, but we live in interesting times.

Update 3/3/12: That price rise turned out to be 300%. Not so good. In fact, very bad. Very, very bad. See Every Silver Lining Has a Cloud for more details)

Random House is a not just Random House, but also Knopf Doubleday, Delacorte, Bantam, and Crown.

Because Random House has stuck with libraries, these are titles that we have been able to offer:






6. Simon and Schuster is the last of the “Big 6”. They have remained a steadfast naysayer when it comes to libraries.

This is unfortunate. Not only is the Simon and Schuster imprint big, but Scribner is one of their major imprints. Atheneum and Aladdin are among their Childrens’ houses, and Pocket is one of the big paperback presses.

These represent some of the current S&S titles that libraries would love to offer, but cannot:






The notion of the “Big 6” publishers is a somewhat abstract concept, but the books they publish are not. However, these types of designations are subject to change.

Once upon a time business used to refer to the “Big 8” accounting firms. Now it’s the “Big 4”.

There used to be nine planets, then Pluto got demoted. Now there are eight.

In Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, the One Ring ruled them all, but nine rings were given to mortal men. Those men were once proud kings, but they tried to seize more power than they were capable of holding.

Those kings ignored the warnings they were given about the danger represented by the rings.

Just like the publishers are ignoring the statistics that “50% of all library users report purchasing books by an author they were introduced to in the library”.  Those publishers also cast aside warnings that compare the current state of the publishing industry to the state of Kodak during the rise of digital photography, as well as those that compare how much better new authors can do for themselves than with a “traditional publisher”. Traditional, read “big 6” publishers, are increasingly being cut out of the equation and their purpose in the supply chain is being questioned.

Those kings who picked up the nine rings–no one remembers their names.