Review: Clean by Alex Hughes
Roughly 60 years in the future the accelerating pace of technology runs into a brick wall. Somehow, our tech turns against us and when the dust settles we find ourselves in a future with telepaths and flying cars but no world wide web and no cell phones. It’s a future that could have been written during the heyday of cyberpunk except that they were imagining the very technology which is missing here.
Fast forward a decade or so and we catchup with our story. Alex Hughes writes a first person limited omniscient. It’s a neat trick to have a telepathic narrator and she pulls it off well. It’s also rather impressive that while telepathy is important to the main character, the plot and the entire world described in the novel, it’s the theme of addiction which drives the character development and relationships. The main character’s minute to minute struggle with his unhealthy cravings isn’t the easiest thing to read, but it grounds the narrative.
A telepath makes a great interrogator. And the police department have gotten their hands on one. He gets the toughest interrogations and he’s been doing that and little else for the past 6 years. When a series of murders seem to have a connection to telepathy the department assigns their favorite interrogator some field work. In the process his partner, her boss and we learn considerably more than expected about the full capabilities of a telepath.
I spent much of the book feeling like I’d identified first novel mistakes, yet a few pages later I’d think back and feel like the author really made the right choice. For instance, I struggled with how little most of the characters seemed to know about the main character even though he’d worked with them for 6 years. However, his struggles with addiction, his desire to literally keep people at a distance because of his ability and the general distrust of the same all add up to explain how isolated he is. This case changes much of that and it becomes a great way to pull the reader into the world as well.
The plot is rather straightforward. The world building is uneven but engaging. The writing is gritty and clever. The characters are well developed. All in all a great start to a new series. I find it interesting that this list over at Tor.com has Clean lumped in with urban fantasy. Aside from the flying cars and the defunct ubiquitous computing infrastructure this could be a contemporary urban fantasy. There are hints that the world could feel considerably more like the near future post-apocalyptic science fiction it is. I particularly want to know more about the tech wars and I was left with the impression that there’s plenty of dormant technology which could offer considerable amounts of mayhem.