Mysterious Book Report SparkSpark by John Twelve Hawks

Doubleday, Random House, $25.95, 301 pages, ISBN 978-0-385-53867-1

My Oxford Dictionary defines the word dystopia as an imaginary place where everything is as bad as it can be . . . which makes it the exact opposite of utopia, and an ideal descriptor for end-of-the-world type literature. Lately, with the popularity of works like The Hunger Games and Gotham, dystopian novels, movies and TV mini-series are all the rage in the literary arena where I operate; and where everyone—writers, agents and publishers are all looking for clues to the next mega-blockbuster and best-seller.

Dystopian literature falls under the broad description of Science-Fiction, which asks us as the readers to suspend our preconceived notions about what is or isn’t real and accept that anything is possible. That also makes it an ideal venue for putting forth notions too radical for the op-ed pages of most news organizations. (Emphasis is mine.)

Spark, by John Twelve Hawks, (a nom de plume?) is just such a book. In it, he postulates a near-future in which all citizens are required to carry RFID, or ‘radio frequency identification chips’ at all times. Some are inserted as capsules in the back of one’s hand, leaving a distinct scar, while others are carried as personal ID cards . . . which are monitored 24/7 by something called the EYE system which collects and stores every move by every citizen everyday which . . . when combined with one’s phone calls and all of their computer mouse clicks, allows the governments of the world to predict all human behavior . . . preventing another Day of Rage, in which anarchists coordinated bombings all around the world. In this grim reality we meet a protagonist named Mr. Underwood, an assassin in the employ of DBG—a megalithic international consortium, whose job is simply to kill his assigned clients, who have lost money or otherwise run afoul of the company. Mr. Underwood is the perfect assassin . . . remorseless, logical, soulless, unemotional, uncomplicated, uncaring and uninvolved . . . the best of all the banks contractors, because he believes he’s already dead. A motorcycle accident when he was still an ordinary, and brilliant, computer engineer named Jacob Davis, has left him with something called Cotard’s Syndrome, where the sufferer thinks that they’ve died. Mr. Underwood thinks he exists only as a spark, or his consciousness, within a shell, which is what he calls his body. He drinks a protein supplement called ComPlete, his only source of nourishment, not wanting to put “anything dead or that will rot inside of me.”

When a woman named Emily Buchanan disappears without a trace from her job at a subsidiary of DBG, it’s feared that she’s stolen money, and/or company secrets. Mr. Underwood is tasked with tracking her down and eliminating her. He’s the perfect candidate for the job: logical, precise, ruthless, and without conscience or guilt. As the assignment draws him across continents and ever deeper into the questionable and murky world he lives in, Mr. Underwood starts to have doubts about himself at the same time that Jacob Davis begins to be reborn . . . setting up a conflict that will keep you in a reading frenzy all the way to the thrilling conclusion, after which, you’ll start to wonder, as I am, about the decisions we’re making today that will create the world of tomorrow—the one we’re leaving for our children and grandchildren.


John Dwaine McKenna