Debut Review: Veracity by Laura Bynum


by Laura Bynum
Pocket Books
Hardcover – $25
Dystopian Science Fiction

VERACITY by Laura Bynum was a welcome change of pace, and despite some plausability issues I had with certain aspects of the plot, I enjoyed it very much. Veracity is a near-future dystopian science fiction story.

Veracity begins with Harper Adams making her escape from her job, the government and her country. She can no longer live with any of these and is willing to do anything to escape — even give up her daughter.

For Harper lives in a future America — actually, a post-America — that is so repressive that it forbids the utterance of thousands of words. She worked as a Monitor for the government where she uses her ability to see auras in the enforcement of the law. She can sometimes recognize truth from lies, plus she is precognitive and remote-sensing. Certain technologies keep the populace in line, and deals out instant punishment for any infractions. This includes children. The Blue Coat police force uses rape and unfettered violence to enforce the law. The Bible has been rewritten as the Confederation Bible. It’s a sort of watered-down Christianity, and it’s the only government-sanctioned religion.

This was a real page-turner. Harper was likable, but I would have liked to seen more character development. As I mentioned above, I occasionally ran into problems with plausibility. In writing circles, the willingness of the reader to set aside reality long enough to read the novel is called suspension of disbelief. The story stretched my ability suspend my disbelief in several places. Early on in the story, for example, we learn that many police are unarmed.

“. . . the largely gun-free system has flourished. Fists, elblows, knees, mouth, teeth, the fleshy weapons carried by men, the ones used to inflict more intimate punishments — these broadcast an absolute and terrifying power the business end of a pistol doesn’t match.”

I thought, “huh?” If this were true, our entire history wouldn’t include one huge, never-ending arms race. The business end of a pistol is about the most terrifying thing I can imagine. I immediately wanted to know how the government would have accomplished the incredible task of disarming our gun-loving populace. However, Ms. Bynum dealth with that tricky problem by not dealing with it. It just happened, and it was so. This happened rather frequently.

I also had difficulty believing that so many sweeping and brutal changes could have happened over the course of one generation, especially since they were voluntary changes. People actually agreed to have slates implanted in their necks, which would monitor their every word, and would zap them if they said a Red Listed word. It was a stretch to my credulity.

One could argue that Stalin managed to install a horrifically oppressive regime within a generation of the revolution in 1917. But the Russian regime that preceded the revolution was hardly one based on freedom. There was a reason for the revolution. I do agree that people are willing to exchange their freedom for security, but only incrementally. Which can lead to horrible things, but I would have been more credulous of a fifty year timespan. One hundred years would have been even better.

Since I otherwise found the book intriguing, I decided to suspend my disbelief in my disbelief of my suspension of disbelief.

Harper has a harrowing time getting into the resistance. In order for her to put on a convincing act for the authorities, she can’t know anything until she’s actually in. It was very well done and made the opening pages just fly by. Ms. Bynum has frequent flashbacks to Harper’s draft into the Monitor program and certain key scenes in her high school years. There was one intriguing character early in the story — the Monitor who tested her — that I wanted to see again, but she didn’t turn up.

Among the things Harper has to give up in order to flee the Monitor program and join the resistance is her daughter, Veracity. She has to make it look like she has no love for her daughter, or the government will use the girl as leverage. This made for some great suspense. Another nailbiting series of scenes involved Harper having to go off on a mission all by herself. And she has to go all the way into the bowels of a Blue Coat station. This would make a great book club book. I just want to talk about it, but I can’t say too much because I want you to discover all these interesting plot twists for yourself.

Bravo to the author for not making the ending one of those cliched everything-is-lost types of endings that have been done way too much these days. There is a struggle, of course, but it didn’t follow one of those well-plowed formulas, so it was more unpredictable than some other novels I’ve read lately. The ending ending pages were extremely subtle, and quite well done. Oh, and more kudos to the author for not making this one of those excessively gritty novels. In fact, if it weren’t for the swearing and the sex scenes, this could easily have been a Christian novel.

I think many of the problems I had with the novel were personal because I’m such a stickler for plausibility. Everyone has their own plausibility tolerance level. Obviously the author found it plausible and so did the many people it takes to get a book published these days, and so might you. I obviously enjoyed the story anyway, and I will certainly be interested in reading Ms. Bynum’s next effort.

Here is another point of view by The Crotchety Old Fan.

UPDATE: Remarks in the comments have led me to believe that by ending this review on a low note, I gave the mistaken impression that I didn’t enjoy it. This is not the case. I really enjoyed this novel and found it quite impossible to put down. It was refreshing to read a science fiction novel that didn’t try to shock one’s senses with grittiness, and who isn’t afraid to end a novel on a hopeful note.

7 Thoughts to “Debut Review: Veracity by Laura Bynum”

  1. My husband is one of those sticklers for plausibility. It always makes me laugh when we’re watching a fantasy or sci-fi movie and he says, “That could never happen.” As if magic and dragons could happen? But I know what you mean. I can overlook some slight implausibility issues, but there are certain things that just have to make sense.

  2. Good review. Unfortunately, I won’t read this book now I’ve read your review, because I don’t care to read about oppressive regimes and I really don’t care for implausability, either.

    1. Tia Nevitt

      The oppressive regime was really a strong hook for me. I love reading about resistances struggling against a more powerful than themselves.

  3. Yes, the unarmed police force does sound a bit implausible, especially since so many people in this country (particularly people in rural areas, it seems,) believe strongly in the right to bear arms. I somehow can’t see the government ever being able to de-arm an entire population. Also, what would happen if the police force ran into a resistance group that happened to be comprised of beefy, angry quarterbacks who were all about six inches taller than the police men? 🙂

    The other thing I find a bit implausible (just from reading the premise) is the idea of a near-future America where a watered-down Christianity is the (only) government sanctioned religion. Our country is very sensitive about having religious plurality, and people seem pretty suspicious of religion sneaking into the government, so how does the author suppose all that would have gone completely backwards in a short amount of time?

    I have to admit, despite the implausibility, this description does make me want to read it. If nothing else, to see a dystopia story that actually has a hopeful ending!

    Rachel Heston Davis
    Up and Writing

  4. Raven

    I like dystopias. I think I find them true to life. 🙂 Some of the plausibility issues you raised, Tia, might be a problem for me, though. And resistance movements don’t always do it for me. I prefer stories of individuals caught in the system and struggling to stay alive and retain some freedom of thought. For instance, I’m a big fan of Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon.

    In the case of Russia, the tsarist government was slowly opening up to reforms. It would’ve happened faster if the revolutionaries hadn’t made a point of assassinating every progressive politician, including Alexander II. The revolutionaries weren’t really after reforms. They were after power, as they so often are.

  5. Nice review. As you say, mine offers a different perspective.

    I’ve got an interview with Laura Bynum coming up pretty soon (we’re doing the email thing) and I suspect that some the issues you’ve raised are handled/answered in Laura’s responses.

    I tend to give first-time novelists a little bit of a gimme; equal parts “don’t beat up the newbie” and the hope that encouragement will give them added incentive to produce even better things in the future. I saw quite a bit of good writing in this story and believe that Bynum will develop into quite a good novelist.

    In regards to the major sticking point(s) raised here: we actually came much closer to losing most of our freedoms in this country during the previous administration than most have any clue: there was serious talk (and training for) instituting martial law and, as we saw with Katrina and New Orleans, one of the first things they do is round up the gun holders.

    My opinion is that you are also glossing over the manner in which control was seized (the pandemic) and the “artful” way in which the new government got rid of potential trouble makers.

    But to each his own. That’s what makes this reading and reviewing thing so much fun!

    1. Tia Nevitt

      I think I gave a mistaken impression that I didn’t like this novel, due to the way I worded the last paragraph. On the contrary, I enjoyed it very much, so I’ll chalk this up to a lesson learned.

      Not sure exactly what you are referring to with Katrina, but I do recall there was a lot of alarmism going on about martial law back in the 90s, too, after the events of Waco and Ruby Ridge and the rise of militias. I even heard talk of black helicopters buzzing people’s houses (mostly on Art Bell :). I did want to make the point that I think it is easier to deprive a people of their freedoms gradually. I do understood the author’s intention of wanting Harper to have some memories of freedom, but she also didn’t want to make the character very old. It must have been a balancing act.

      As for my glossing over, I tried to tread a fine line between criticism and spoilers, which probably resulted in an uneven review.

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