An intelligent near-future thriller about friends, family, loyalty, and betrayal.
The pandemic and economic collapse irrevocably changed the world. Maintaining social harmony was paramount as societies struggled to find solutions to governance, population, and cultural problems that lead to the failures of the past. But for every solution a new problem arose.
Plot: Albert Marsolais's Amir of Guelph is a fast-paced, engaging, continually surprising near-future dystopian thriller. The novel is uniquely attentive to the drift of everyday life in an extraordinary future, and its focus is refreshingly localized: Marsolais's characters discover the truths about their government by dealing with issues in their own Ontario city. The novel moves so swiftly, with inventive power and an agreeable narrative voice, that its eccentric shifts of focus and occasional paucity of detail will likely not much diminish reader enjoyment. But both tendencies rob the story of urgency, as Amir of Guelph follows Amir and a growing cohort of friends attempting to save a library -- and its records of the past. The bonds between the characters are not strongly established, and the novel's not clear about just how dangerous the police and "thugs” of future Ontario are supposed to be.
Prose/Style: Marsolais is adept at breezy, amusing dialogue scenes that reveal the day-to-day experience of living in a future where human lives have been extended by decades, and governments are run by advanced A.I.s. The novel is often memorably funny, and Marsolais's descriptions of action and explanations of how the society works are clear and compelling. The dialogue and its comic spirit dominates the book, though, to the expense of narrative momentum and the development of the world.
Originality: Marsolais's vision of life in future ruled by A.I. is original and persuasive. The novel's strongest chapters might be its first, before the main plot really kicks in. In these, protagonist Amir gets embroiled with his friend Ranjit in a pair of sketchy schemes involving a catfishing incident and a can't-miss investment. These low-key misadventures later figure into the book's main plot of course, but they offer a memorable and unique perspective on the constancy of human nature even after radical societal change. Marsolais teases out the specifics of this world through dialogue and incident, which makes those first chapters especially compelling.
Character Development: After the delightful opening chapters, which are powered by the narrator's efforts to navigate a friendship defined by deceptions and con artistry, Amir of Guelph introduces a succession of characters who, like Ranjit, catch Amir up in something of a mystery plot. These characters, though, are not as sharply drawn or as unpredictable. Amir's burgeoning friendship with young Darwina, for example, is sketched too quickly to be engaging or fully credible. Marsolais wrings some tension from the possibility that some of Amir's new circle might have divided loyalties, but the group's camaraderie and zeal for risk-taking is presented as a given rather than developed.
Date Submitted: August 18, 2020
Amir of Guelph by Albert Marsolais is about a group of eccentric characters who come together over a common cause. It’s set in the future which makes it technically a science fiction novel, but this book is more about the people than the science or the future. The central character is an elderly man named Amir who discovers some strange goings-on in the local government. In Amir’s snooping around, he connects with several others who are affected by the same issues and are seeking justice. Before long, Amir and his new friends are investigating some suspicious characters, all the while avoiding the government’s A.I. that listens to every conversation, even behind closed doors. As the eccentric group of characters digs deeper and finds more trouble, their bonds of friendship with one another grow stronger.
Amir of Guelph works because it has strong quirky characters that are fun to watch react to the off-beat situations that they find themselves in. The futuristic setting adds to the charm, giving them unusual challenges to overcome like the government’s watchful eye and churches that double as political parties. The plot has its share of twists and turns but the tension is turned way down in this story while the character interaction is turned up. Albert Marsolais’ subtle brand of humor is skillfully worked into every scene, making sure that the story never gets too heavy. I enjoyed Amir of Guelph and recommend it to anyone who likes character-driven stories full of humor and light suspense.
A whopper of a near-future SF mystery…
Set in Near-future, Marsolais’s excellent latest, a sweetly charming, delightedly entertaining tale of a group of people trying to unravel a government conspiracy examines friendship, family ties, and loyalty while probing bigger questions, like a man’s struggle to find completeness and the meaning of life, with abundant, dark humor. After a pandemic and economic collapse, the world has irrevocably changed. Political parties are banned, people can store their thoughts in implants, and the privacy has become a valuable service as people are forced to live close together for security and economic reasons. With his wife dead ages ago, Amir, a 128-year-old retiree, is trying to find completeness in this new world. When the lovely Nora, an integration imaginer, moves next door, Amir finds himself entangled into a dangerous conspiracy that involves the City hall and the Church. The stakes rise as The Ministry of Justice and Reconciliation becomes involved. And there are people who do not want Amir and his friends to dig deeper. Marsolais excels at offbeat storytelling that perfectly suits this delightful futuristic tale. Strange happenings and hilarious scenarios enhance the intelligent plot. But the biggest strength of Marsolais’s writing is his ability to make the fantastic so mundane it’s fantastic again. The original premise and Marsolais’s skill at creating wonderfully exotic futuristic inventions (thought messaging, ReGen treatments: the life-extending therapies, the pets communicating with people through their thoughts, Divine Life virtual reality cradle, the concept of brainwashing or controlling people through their thought messaging and AI implants, the bizarre system of credit points) keep the readers turning pages fast. Marsolais’s eccentric characters are sketched with perception and skill: the ordinary, wonderfully boring Amir, delightfully crooked Zhang lei, the flashy Ranjit, overly paranoid Nora, and the fierce Darwina and Dr. Allan Tattie’s, members of Action Group, a group dedicated to investigating conspiracies and righting wrongs will stay with readers for long after they finish reading the book. The adorable Neep will charm with his doggy-devotion and futuristic way of communication. Marsolais peppers his eccentric characters’ lives with equally eccentric happenings, and in doing so he not only jostles the mind and tickles the funny bone but also makes intelligent sociopolitical observations. Delightful, sympathetic characters and a smoothly paced plot filled with dark humor and political and scientific intrigue make it a must-read for lovers of literary SF mysteries. This is a stunner.