Title: The End of Marking Time
Author: C.J. West
Page Count: 284 pages print length, 403 KB Kindle format
Publisher: 22 West Books
Genre: dystopian, thriller
Copy for review provided by the author in anticipation of an honest review
Synopsis: Gifted housebreaker, Michael O'Connor, awakens inside an ultramodern criminal justice system where prison walls are replaced by surveillance equipment and a host of actors hired to determine if he is worthy of freedom. While he was sleeping, the Supreme Court declared long term incarceration to be cruel and unusual punishment and ordered two million felons released. The result was utter chaos and the backlash from law-abiding citizens and police departments reshaped the United States. Felons now enter reeducation programs where they live freely among the population. At least that's what they think. In reality they are enslaved to an army of counselors and a black box that teaches them everything they failed to learn from kindergarten through adulthood. Michael believes he's being tested by the black box, but what he slowly begins to realize is that everything he does is evaluated to determine whether he lives or dies.
Although presented as a political thriller, I'm going to open by saying that this book has "dystopian" written all over it. Gritty and realistic, this book proposes a lot of really uncomfortable questions; I found that the answers I came up with weren't necessarily ones that sat well with me, and to me that's the mark of a good dystopian.
Michael O'Connor is a living, breathing gray area. With no education, no skills, and no assets that he can see, he supports himself by breaking into houses and fencing the stolen goods. A job goes bad, and Michael finds himself arrested for the crime for the first time ever. Found guilty and sentenced to prison, Michael doesn't actually make it to the prison facility; assaulted on the way there, he falls into a coma, and while he's in the hospital, the Supreme Court declares that long-term incarceration constitutes cruel and unusual punishment and two million incarcerated inmates are turned out in the street as a result.
When Michael comes to, he's enrolled in a reeducation program whose goal is to teach him all the things he didn't learn on his own, starting with basic academics and morals and ultimately leading to how to have healthy relationships, getting his GED, and having marketable job skills. Michael doesn't take this all that seriously because after all, if it's not jail, it's not a punishment. Little does he know that everything he does and every decision he makes is leading up to the big moment where his very existence is on the line.
I freely admit that while reading about the first phases of Michael's reeducation, I had some very self-righteous and indignant thoughts. Why shouldn't Michael have to make a legitimate contribution to society? Having to get his GED, learn how to have relationships, and pay child support for the son he didn't know about? What's wrong with that? The government oversight here is extreme, but insidious- it isn't until later that the reader fully realizes just how much control has been assumed, not just over the convicts, but really, over everyone. What price are you willing to pay for security?
More than that, what is the price of a human life? Horton and his Whos taught us that "a person's a person, no matter how small," but when placed in the position of having to determine if a life has been worthwhile or not, how would you rule? Michael is pleading for his life from the first page of the novel until the end, but the revelation of who was serving as his judge, jury and (perhaps) executioner was one that I did not see coming.
Like any good dystopian, this one left me itchy, because while the oppressive regime and government spying may not be in full force today, the social issues highlighted by Michael and his "reeducation" are very real. I had to examine my own beliefs and prejudices and I came out at the end a different person for having read the story.
Thanks to C.J. West, I have UNLIMITED copies of this book to give away! Yes, anyone who wants a copy of this book can have one, so EVERYONE is a winner! Simply fill out the Google form below and, at the end of the carnival, C.J. will be sending copies to everyone who wants one! And yes, entering your information here counts as an additional entry for the $25 Amazon gift card as well!
Add a comment to this post for an extra entry for the $25 Amazon gift card!
Tomorrow's featured indie book: