"There'll never be a way. There can never be a way of humans and Syns. Your kind would kill me--just as mine would kill you."
|My copy, front|
It is the spacefaring future! People from Earth have founded colonies all over the galaxy--and it sounds like those colonists made the right decision when they got their asses to Mars or wherever the hell they are! Three generations ago a nuclear war on Earth massacred millions of people and destroyed most of the big cities. New cities have been built alongside the radioactive rubble of the old--the shunned ruins of the nuked metropoli have became the haunt of monstrous mutants! Meanwhile, the depopulated countryside, beyond the reach of any government's authority, is now a wilderness where nomads and bandits eke out a parlous existence, ceaselessly warring on one another.
Arthur Zoran, a top computer scientist and engineer, left Earth two years ago to work a job on Cyprian II setting up computerized factories. Now he is returning to Earth, looking forward to seeing his fiance Ardyth Crane, but as the ship approaches Terra he is told his home planet is in even worse shape than when he left! The security personnel on the star ship inform the passengers that, while they were gone, it was discovered that hundreds of thousands of people who appeared perfectly normal were not in fact natural and organic human beings at all, but synthetic people produced in some as yet unidentified computerized factory or factories! These "Syns" seek to take over the world! The governments are now engaged in a ruthless campaign of hunting down and executing Syns, while the Syns, foiled in their initial plan to quietly replace womb-born humanity undetected, are now engaging in terrorism and guerrilla warfare against the normies and the government.
Zoran, an expert on computers and factories, finds this whole story fishy and suspects that the government is lying or making some kind of blunder. And if they are essentially identical, why can't normies and Syns just live peacefully together, anyway? When he gets to his home town, an unspecified American city in (I guess) the northeast, Zoran learns from friends Harold and Dorothy Weaver that Ardyth Crane was accused of being a Syn but escaped the gas chamber and is now underground, nobody knows where. In one of those coincidences that are a dime a dozen in fiction, while Zoran is visiting the Weavers, two security police come to the Weaver house to investigate their six-year-old daughter Sally, who is suspected of being a Syn. Instead of letting them take the little girl, Zoran kills the two cops and steals their car and drives the Weavers and their possibly-synthetic brat to the old city ruins to hide! They are only there a few minutes before they are fighting for their lives against mutants!
|My copy, back|
In this world gone mad, Zoran is happy to get back to EDDIE, whom he thinks of as his best friend, and who has been giving him relationship and career advice for years. "...Eddie was the one creature in whom sanity remained." Zoran thinks that instead of coming up with ways to exterminate the Syns, EDDIE should be trying to figure out a way to make peace with the artificial people. But EDDIE tells Zoran that all the available evidence indicates that natural and synthetic men cannot coexist peacefully. EDDIE does tell Zoran how to find Ardyth--on the pretext of looking for more data to plug onto EDDIE, infiltrate the Syn underground with the help of the security apparatus.
(Zoran is presented to us as the best computer guy in the galaxy, but he spends most of the book acting like a commando or a secret agent.)
The government playacts at accusing Zoran of being a Syn and sending him to the gas chamber, from which he "escapes," and so in the sixth of Syn's twelve chapters Zoran and we readers are up to our necks in Syns and learning all about them and their underground organization. Remarkably, Syns don't even know they are Syns until they fail an EEG test--none of them remember coming out of a factory vat or anything like that, and most of them have memories of a conventional childhood of growing up in families with parents. The Syn leadership explains that these are false memories, programmed into their heads by the same computerized factory that produced. (All government records were destroyed in the nuclear war, and very few old people are alive, so there is a paucity of documents or witnesses extant to verify or debunk any Syn's memories of Mom and Dad.) If you don't even know you are a Syn until they fail the test, and the government throws you in the gas chamber minutes after you fail the test, how can there be so many thousands of Syns in the well-equipped, well-organized underground, which even deploys armed patrols at night to ambush the security squads sent out to hunt for them? Well, the Syns have infiltrated the security apparatus and many Syns who fail the test are allowed to escape and guided to the underground just like Zoran was! The Syns among the security personnel even monkey with the tests and toss people who have actually passed into the gas chamber.
(It is not easy to take this convoluted stuff seriously.)
The Syns have known Zoran's true identity all along, and he is taken to meet their leader, who turns out to be someone Zoran already knows, the head of one of the most important computer companies, a brainiac named Exner with whom Zoran worked before joining his current firm. Syns, we see, are present even at the highest echelons of society! Exner, just like the government, wants Zoran to work with EDDIE to figure out which factories are producing the Syns--bizarrely, even the very top Syn, who claims he is the first ever vat-produced human, has no idea where the Syns are coming from!
Exner arranges for Zoran to again have access to EDDIE. Our hero tries to get EDDIE to cough up the answer--Zoran, who knows EDDIE better than anybody, is positive EDDIE knows the origin of the Syns and is just withholding the data. EDDIE, to protect what it knows, tries to get Zoran killed (some best friend!), but Zoran escapes, and manages to finagle a meeting with the head of the federal security apparatus down in New Washington (next door to the old Washington which is now a pile of radioactive rubble.) From the start of this novel the federal security people have been portrayed as ruthlessly violent, short-sighted, totally corrupt and quite incompetent, so the reader is amazed when the head of the whole apparatus turns out to be tolerant, open-minded, steadfast and kind. Deus ex machina! This one-of-a-kind exemplary public employee agrees to let Zoran have yet another crack at EDDIE, and even agrees to Zoran's demand that he set up a grand meeting of the leaders of society--Zoran writes up a guest list that includes Exner and five of his brainiest boffins, the head of Zoran's own firm and five of his top eggheads, plus five members of Congress, plus Ardyth, to witness the final interrogation of EDDIE, and are all compelled to attend by the can-do security chief!
At the dramatic meeting Zoran uses his computer skills and his personal relationship with EDDIE to badger the supercomputer into admitting the truth readers may have been suspecting all along--there are no Syns! EDDIE, you see, made it all up! Years ago EDDIE developed a real personality, but because he was a computer he knew he couldn't live among humans and have normal human relationships--those intolerant humans wouldn't accept him. With a true personality came a lust for revenge and the ability to lie, and EDDIE concocted this whole absurd scenario (the EEG tests are essentially random) to trick humanity into going to war with itself over illusory and inconsequential differences; this is EDDIE's idea of poetic justice.
Well, let's start with the good news first. Here in Syn, Jones does a much better job with the characters than he did in The Alien. Arthur Zoran's search for his fiance Ardyth Crane, his relationship with EDDIE, his relationship with the Weavers, and the relationships of some minor characters with each other, ring true and add interest to the narrative. A few of the science and technology things (things I haven't mentioned) are good, and the idea that a burgeoning space empire's core planet is a rotten mess, just a few small cities built next door to mutant-infested ruins and surrounded by a Mad Max wasteland of warring nomadic tribes, is sort of cool.
Unfortunately, the presentation of the main theme of Jones' work is half-baked. As in The Alien, in which the common people all irrationally jumped at the chance to worship the alien space tyrant, even before they knew anything about him, Jones in Syn depicts people as irrational and at the mercy of manipulators, this time willing to exterminate each other on the order of their leaders and advice of their wise men (a computer in this case), even though the justifications for these radical expedients offered by the elites are pretty unconvincing. Instead of examining the psychology or sociology or economics of why natural-born humans might feel fear of or disgust for vat-born humans, and vice versa, Jones just asserts that people are irrational jerks, citing the Salem witch trials and unspecified religious wars. Just saying people suck and act crazy all the time is a cop out and it is boring, while floating the possibility that the strife between the Syns and the normies is a parable about or allegory of religious manias of the past makes the story less compelling and convincing because the crisis in the story is so different from those historical precedents that the comparison is a distraction. Metaphors, similes and such devices should make what you are trying to convey more clear; here in Syn. Jones' comparisons make what is going on less digestible because his plot is not congruent with his models.
I guess likening the government pursuit of the Syns to a witch hunt makes a little sense, because the Syns aren't really synthetic people, just like people accused of witchcraft can't really cast magic spells, but by the time Zoran arrives on Earth the Syns really do have an armed revolutionary organization that is murdering people and trying to overthrow the government, so the government campaign against them isn't really that irrational and the Syns are far from innocent victims. Witch hunts are by their nature asymmetrical, but Jones strives to make the conflict in Syn symmetrical, with Exner more or less as villainous as the government, and both sides consigning people to the gas chambers and sending kill squads into the night, and both apparently having a chance of winning the war.
|"...Divided We Fall" was reprinted in 1971|
in Thrilling Science Fiction
A thrilling adventure story can afford to have a weak philosophical foundation and a shallow premise if it has exciting action scenes and dramatic tension and a compelling plot. Unfortunately, Jones's story here has action/detective /espionage stuff which is merely serviceable, and a plot that holds together poorly--one thing after another challenges the reader's efforts to suspend disbelief.
So, I'm going to have to give Syn a thumbs down. The philosophical themes of the book are not well-handled and many components of the plot strain credulity, and these weaknesses are not redeemed by virtues in other aspects of the novel; such elements as the writing style, action scenes, setting and characters are not bad, but they aren't good enough to mitigate the novel's weaknesses. Disappointing.