Defender: Hive Mind 2 by Janet Edwards (book review).

One of the biggest problems in creating a future society is to balance the need to tell an exciting story and the desire to expound the benefits and doubts that the society offers. A perceived utopia is a bigger problem than a tyranny. There is also a need to balance the constraints of the type of novel and its potential audience. Whatever anyone says, Y/A is trickier than most as the readership will have a wide demographic from pre-teen to the seasoned reader. Janet Edwards has a knack of walking that tightrope.

Defender’ is the second in the ‘Hive Mind’ series (although there is a prequel novella, ‘Perilous’). This is a far future where the vast population has been crammed into huge underground structures of a hundred levels which are mostly underground. Over time, the population has become largely agoraphobic with the idea of going outside being terrifying. Such an attitude is encouraged. Such a large population has to be managed to prevent problems. It is accepted that children move out of the parental home at thirteen and learn independence in the supervised teen-levels and then at seventeen they enter Lottery.

This assesses each person with a series of tests and assigns them to a level and a job that suits their skills and intelligence. They are imprinted with the knowledge they will need to carry out the job which is selected to give them satisfaction. This is the accepted way. No-one questions the system. The only exceptions to imprinting are the telepaths.

In volume one, ‘Telepath’, Amber was shocked to find that she was a telepath and that she was one of only five in her hive. There is more than one hive. Her life suddenly became easy and infinitely difficult as she couldn’t tell friends or family what she was. She was surrounded by people whose primary jobs were to protect her at all costs. She couldn’t stay hidden away but had to go out into the community whenever an incident occurred in order to read minds and find the person responsible.

The danger of going into someone’s mind to discover their motives was that echoes of the criminal personality could be left behind. Too many and her mind would fragment into a multiple personality disorder leaving her unable to function. Telepaths face dangers that are alien to everyone else.

Defender’ begins with the discovery of a body. Murder is rare in the hive but it happens. Amber’s team have the job of investigating and bringing the culprit to justice. The dead woman is Fran, who used to be a member of her team but who Amber fired because her attitude was distressing the others. Though no-one had liked the woman, they felt an obligation to find her killer.

The novel begins as a detective story as they try to piece together the events leading to Fran’s death but changes into a thriller as Amber’s team is targeted by unknown killers and finishes with elements reminiscent of Bond movies.

One of the elements Amber is familiar with from childhood is the concept of nosies. Citizens are taught that these are telepaths looking for deviant thoughts and are therefore despised. Amber has the same antipathy though now knows they are fake.

Being one of the few who are not imprinted, she has to consider the dilemma as to whether the population should be made to live with this lie. To most of the millions of inhabitants, their lives are as close to living in a utopia as it is possible to get. Amber, who is effectively the outsider can see other aspects of this. She has to reconcile public ‘knowledge’ with reality and consider what is best for the majority, a difficult task for one so young.

At one level, this is an exciting, Y/A novel but it contains more. While in ‘Telepath’, Amber was finding her way into her new role, in ‘Defender’, Edwards is developing the moral issues that such a role contends with. These are the aspects that indicate a thoughtful author not content with pure action. Hopefully, these dilemmas will be taken to other levels in future volumes. The population can afford to be complacent, Amber and her team can’t. Neither can those of us who live in the real world.

Pauline Morgan

November 2018

(pub: CreateSpace. 348 page small enlarged paperback. Price: £ 8.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-98172-827-5. Kindle: £ 3.99 (UK))

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