The Forever Watch by David Ramirez (2014, 326 pages) – This book has several things going against it for me. First, the entire novel is present tense. I feel like I’m falling forward when I read present tense. Secondly, there are very few speaking verbs (said, asked, exclaimed). This is my pet peeve because most authors who avoid such verbs are forced to stick in artificial narrative so we know who is speaking (e.g., She nodded. “I’m going to town.”) I can only take so much head nodding in a book.
But, as Robert Silverberg suggests: know the rules of good writing and then break them. Mr. Ramirez has done just that in The Tower Watch. Told from a close first person perspective, present tense works surprisingly well here. The story of a moonlighting office manager on a multiple generation colony ship is so tight and draws you in so completely that you are her from the first sentence. You really care about her well-being when she and her policeman boyfriend discover someone (or something) is hacking people to death. Worse, someone aboard the ship is covering up the murders by sanitizing the crime scenes and adjusting witnesses’ memories.
Hana, the reluctant heroine, has a couple things going for her. She’s a very powerful telekinetic, and she’s gifted at creating software too subtle for the ship’s intelligence forces to detect. Oh, and her hunky boyfriend is a nice perk.
She’s also got some baggage. Her job as a top administrator at City Planning is boring and repetitious. She’s recently been out of the office and asleep for almost a year to fulfill her duty as an incubator, but although she’s never seen her baby (and isn’t supposed to), she feels something is missing in her life. Her friends are caste-conscious social climbers. She makes ten times more money than her boyfriend.
Everyone on the colony ship, really a floating city a third of the way through its thousand year journey, has some psi ability, usually augmented by an electronic amplifier, and an implant which connects them with the ship’s computers and reveals their actions and location. Hana’s secret software finds more and more mysterious hack jobs, too many for one person to accomplish alone. What have she and her boyfriend uncovered?
Why aren’t mothers allowed to see their offspring or even be awake during the gestation? Who are the misshapen creatures sometimes seen in the tunnels below the City? Who built the ship so far beyond human technology?
Hana, her boyfriend, and her friends discover too much too late and not only have a revolution on their hands, but her computer program may have become sentient and living a life of its own.
This book is a clean, exciting read and I recommend it for anyone who – like me – thinks there’s only one way to write. Thank you, Mr. Ramirez.
I guess you can see why present tense and missing speaking verbs didn’t bother me too much.