Earworms by Jonathan Doering (book review)

At 104 pages, ‘Earworms’ is a Science Fiction novella by author Jonathan Doering. As a novelette, it’s longer than a short story but shorter than a novel but still well worth the read. It’s an intriguing story set in the current time and focused (there’s a pun there) on the application of sound to affect changes in people’s behaviour. There’s a shadowy British government agency looking to recruit an expert to report on their research.

The hero of the tale is a Mr. Philip Fry, who is looking out for some paid employment as his PhD studies are coming to an end. A promising opportunity at the University of Manchester’s Graduate Recruitment Fair leads him into the clutches of Z-Branch. Following an interview, he’s signed up for a three-month assignment at an out-of-the-way place near Didcot.

While Fry has been led to believe that Z-Branch are trying to use music and sounds to create a better and happier place, the truth of the research and experiments is somewhat different. Fry being a decent and honourable chap doesn’t agree with the general aim and objectives leading him to come into conflict with his new bosses.

With Fry’s mounting opposition to the activities of Z-Branch, things quickly escalate and they try to kill him to stop him leaking details of the research to the outside world. Things aren’t helped when he discovers that contact with his new wife and parents have been severely limited. There’s some interesting parts were Fry’s parents and his wife try to discover where he is and what’s going on.

One of the things that marks this particular story out is the timeline. To put it bluntly, it’s all over the place but in a good way! For example, the Prelude is set three months from now before ending with a paragraph set two months earlier in the past. There’s quite a bit of this toing and froing and, while it might seem to be off-putting, it’s not and works very well. You do need to pay attention though.

It could be said to be a bit formulaic in that there’s a maverick secret government agency that has gone off the rails and there’s a young hero fighting for justice and the truth. What makes this interesting, apart from the many jumps in the timeline, are the quirky British bits. Z-Branch appears to be hampered somewhat by a lack of funding. Philip’s father uses his old pals network to pull a few strings. I could point out some more but you get the gist.

Philip’s wife should also get a mention here as she’s a very formidable lady. Originally from an Indian family, she must work with Philip’s parents to try and uncover what is happening which leads to some interesting cultural clashes.

I found ‘Earworms’ to be a very enjoyable read as it is just the right length for the subject but gives space for the main characters to develop. As I said earlier, you do have to mentally note where in the timeline the current passage your reading occurs, but this makes it even more engaging.

While this novelette has a definite end, perhaps the ideas behind Z-Branch’s research could be expanded on to provide a longer novel. Have I just planted an earworm in Jonathan Doering’s mind? Only time will tell.

Andy Whitaker

April 2017

(pub: Wolfian Press, 2016. 104 page paperback. Price: £ 3.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-54087-151-0). Ebook: £ 0.99 (UK))

check out website: www.wolfianpress.com

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