By Frank J. Thomas
For FLORIDA TODAY
Local author Dana Barbour's novel, The Question, is an enormous intellectual achievement. Unfortunately, it is difficult, and more than the average reader might be willing to undertake.
The setting is a near-future world In which Jaime Stewart, a nonconformist, an idealist and a dazzling intellectual, becomes increasingly frustrated. It is a world of political and social conformity to Corporate models, to lockstep business practices and methods. The population is concentrated around giant corplexes, where they live and work. people quite literally cannot see themselves for what they are. All mirrors have been removed.
Jaime Stewart, a vernacular language teacher, refuses to conform to a robotic-jargon-filled world in which efficiency and unquestioned obedience to the Corporate world constitute everything. He rebels against the robotizatlon of education and its manipulation of language in which students are measured and treated as products. And he pays the price.
Jaime finds himself an outcast in this brave new world of the year 2020. A New World Order has come about after the monetary collapse of 1998. It enforces economic global independence. The Founding Fathers of the New World Order have In place a giant satellite computer of artificial intelligence, O.M.N.I., Orbital Mensurating Normative Intelligence, a type of Big Brother which knows and controls and sees that everyone remains a good, hardworking, consuming citizen.
Twelve Grand Directors and numerous Petty Directors, mostly descendants of the original Founding Fathers, administer the New World Order. For his antisocial behavior, Jaime is exiled to the Islandia, in the South Pacific. These islands are the bureaucracy of the world government. Its leaders are corrupt and lazy, the total opposite of what they preach to the 5 billion Continentals whom they rule.
Soon, however, an evil scientist, Teller, appears among the ruling elite. He is determined to by-pass O.M.N.I controls and take over the planet. But the super computer is programmed for just such an eventuality and is set to detonate a worldwide nuclear holocaust, an Armageddon, if anyone intrudes upon its perfectly functioning system. Jaime and three rebel friends--Alesha, Benazir and Kwami--find themselves matching wits with the evil Teller. How they make it through mayhem, skulduggery and chicanery to eventually triumph comprises the latter part of the novel.
This brief plot summary in no way does justice to the intellectual challenge presented by The Question.
Parts of it compare to the best of Aldous Huxley, Robert Heinlein and Ayn Rand. These writers lamented mankind's woeful condition earlier in this century. It is up to a 1990s novelist like Barbour to cry out against an increasingly unfeeling, standardized, computerized world.
Thomas, of Melbourne Beach, is a poet and historian.