Friday, July 19, 2013

Swipe by Evan Angler

Swipe is a dystopian young adult novel, and part of a series. The protagonist is almost-thirteen-year-old Logan Langley. Logan's world is populated by the Marked. A Mark is needed to do basic things like make purchases, register to vote, and pretty much anything you can think of. Those without the Mark can't do these things, so they require charity and donations, and almost always end up homeless. However, a terrorist known to the public only as Peck is kidnapping and even killing the Markless, and when Logan becomes his next target, he finds himself at the center of a mystery where his own fears, a governmental coverup, the new girl at school, and the unexplained death of his sister all collide. 

This book puts forth some interesting ideas, but ultimately, it's rather uninspired. It's pretty clear to me that Mr. Angler is not lacking in imagination, but rather experience. Much of the technology he comes up with is creative and interesting. Among his ideas are houses that have one room per floor which are stacked on top of each other like Legos, clear tape that's somehow wired for surveillance (because science; I'll suspend my disbelief for it), small micronanotechnology hidden in powder, and the gloves that make electronic music by swinging them in the air. This is intriguing, and give Swipe a distinct identity of it's own. It's one of the better things the book does, and it's distinct flavor was what kept me kept me interested in the narrative when the plot didn't sustain me. 

The story is told from third person limited, but the narrator changes dozens of times over the course of the story, and often within the same scene, once even within the same sentence. In many places, an omniscient voice comes from on high and tells us something that the characters failed to notice. This technique is particularly whiplash-inducing, and makes the narrative seem incredibly confusing, as well as removing any kind of emotional connection between the characters and their moods. While Logan is narrating, we get an intimate view of his fears, his thoughts. When the point of view switches without warning to Erin, the deuteragonist, without giving us time to think them over, they begin to lose their emotional impact. It is my belief that Angler simply lacks the maturity to handle the viewpoints of as many characters as Swipe believes it needs. Logan, Erin, her father, Blake, Hailey, Dane, and Meg are all characters in the book who narrate from their own point of view, and all of them are interupted by the omniscient narrator. It's messy and confusing, and weakens the book. 

The characters are a jumbled mess. There are times in the narration where characters pointedly tell us what they are NOT thinking about or saying, or what they are forgetting. I rather enjoyed this, partially because it's a favorite tactic of mine in my fiction, but this is mostly relegated to the first act of the story. The first act is, I feel, much stronger than the second or third. Once Logan takes matters into his own hands, the plot quickly begins to unravel. It seems as though Angler is writing a plot that's too complex for his experience. 

Throughout the narrative, many of the characters emotions are demonstrated by having the characters turn to the proverbial camera and say "That makes me feel angry!" This is another area where the first act is strongest: one of the first scenes we see of Logan is of him doing what he tells us is a nightly sweep of his house. He checks every single room-floor in his house every night, all eleven of them, to make sure that nothing is out of place and nothing has been disturbed. When he finds a picture of his sister (you know, the one who died mysteriously while getting her Mark?) overturned in his room, he briefly consults himself on whether or not he was the one who disturbed it. This is a tense and skillful way to demonstrate to us that Logan is paranoid about everything, and that he's very upset over his sister's unexpected death. However, later in the novel, Angler switches tactics and simply tells us that Logan is fighting with his best friend, Dane, over their mutual object of affection, Hailey. These characters tells us this at almost every opportunity they get, and the more Logan becomes mired in the conspiracy, the more this telling crops up. 

Aside from the main protagonists, Logan and Erin, the secondary cast gets little development beyond a single identifiable trait. Erin's father is an overworked, neglectful government business type, Hailey is Dane's ex-girlfriend and not much else, Jo is big and likes to affectionately punch her friends, and so on. This is especially irritating because of the way the narrative switches perspective so often, and because Angler wants to add Loads and Loads of characters. All of these problems could be remedied in the sequels, but on it's own, Swipe doesn't handle it's characters well. First installments of a series should stand alone a great deal more than Swipe does, as much of it feels like set up for a later novel, which is especially true of the characters. 

All in all, it's very much "been there, done that". Angler's book reflects a lot of the themes and plot points of 1984, right down to the last minute traitor twist. If you're a big fan of dystopian literature and have a long plane ride, you may want to check it out, but otherwise, I'd give it a pass. 

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