Genre: Science Fiction
Released: January 2017
Reviewed by: Jane Stockwell
They say that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but to be honest I wasn’t quite sure at first when I saw the cover for “The Gang Of Four”. It just seems like a picture of an egg-shaped Earth with some cat’s eyes stuck over it, and I was worried about the quality of what I would find within.
I needn’t have worried. “The Gang Of Four” is an entertaining, inventive science fiction book that in places had me actually laughing out loud, other times deep in thought trying to follow the disparate pieces as they slowly unwind and eventually intertwine.
On Unigon Plane we try to pick up books and albums for review that are less than six months old. When I first came across this book on Free-Ebooks.net it had a publication date of December 2017, however, I then found it on Smashwords with a release date of January 2017. We felt that it was still sufficiently new to review. I contacted Richard who was more than happy for us to write a review. So I settled down with my Kindle Paperwhite to read.
Richard Lawther has created a world that sits underneath our own where the evolutionary genome of the human race has been secretly manipulated for thousands of years by an alien species called The Sponsors. It’s never made clear if the intent of The Sponsors’ genetic manipulation is malicious or simply an attempt to direct evolution towards what they perceive as the most optimal outcome. Nevertheless, their tampering with the human genome has rapidly guided the human race out of the Stone Age towards an eventual cybernetic hive mind.
A small number of humans assist the Sponsors, having Sponsor DNA integrated into their human DNA which allows them access to Sponsor technology. The hybrid humans and their Sponsor managers manipulate the world’s progress and direction under the front of a large corporate organization called Global Finance Sponsorship (GFS).
The story builds quickly, with Russell Tebb, an unremarkable, ex-junkie aerobics instructor in London being snatched out of his quiet existence by a huge black tarantula named Michael, a large Amazon-like woman named Ceres and a bad-tempered, oversized cat only known as Mr. Waterstone. Yes, you did read that correctly – a big talking spider, an Amazon and a fat cat with an attitude problem. The nature of these three is revealed as the story progresses.
Russell had previously come across the urbane, civilized Michael in a drug-induced dream state some years earlier, believing him to be a hallucination. After the nasty shock of discovering that Michael really did exist, Russell is then introduced to Michael’s companions. You would imagine that this odd bunch would attract considerable attention, but their ability to move around central London unhindered is neatly hand-waved away with use of a perception filter, which is also used as a vehicle throughout the story.
During a whirlwind few hours, Russell is informed of the existence of The Sponsors and is dragged along on a raid of the Sponsors’ headquarters in London, ostensibly as the driver of a big red Bentley.
The “Gang of Four” wipe out all the Sponsor DNA on the planet, which instantly kills all of the Sponsors and Sponsor-DNA enhanced humans with the exception of one enhanced human, Alan Dosogne. The rest of humanity is completely unaware of the momentous event that has occurred in front of their faces.
While the demise of the Sponsors means that the human race is no longer under the control of an alien species, it also means the end of Sponsor manipulation of human evolution. Unchecked, the human race will revert to cavemen within two generations.
Three groups emerge trying to deal with the fallout: Alan Dosogne partners up with his former best client at GFS, Helen Warner, whose role changes from what seems incidental to central; the Prime Minister of England working with the Secret Service and MI5; and of course the Gang of Four.
The rest of the book follows these groups as they try to determine how the impending devolution of the human race can be stopped. The question is raised, however; should it be stopped or should the human race be allowed to return to its original slower evolutionary path prior to the tampering by The Sponsors?
The book has a slightly humorous bent throughout and there are some genuinely funny moments. I laughed out loud a couple of times, giggled at others. There is a surreal quality to the characters and the situation they find themselves in as if they are half aware of their own absurdity. There is even a nod to crop circles that fits well with the feel of the story.
By the end of the book, the meaning of those cat’s eyes on the Earth on the cover is clear, although the artwork could benefit from a professional eye over it. The editing throughout the book was excellent, I don’t recall seeing any typos or errors, giving it a slick and professional feel.
The story is fully self-contained and I am not sure if we will revisit the members of the Gang of Four again. A sequel wouldn’t really add much, but I enjoyed the antics of the characters in this story.
If you are after a highly imaginative, slightly off-beat science fiction story, then “The Gang Of Four” is well worth the read. And I will try to not judge a book by its cover again.