Plot: A cyberpunk thriller featuring plenty of action and intrigue. The novel, while high concept, remains eminently readable and easy to follow. It ends by closing an arc but opening the fictional world to larger conflict.
Prose: The novel is very heavy on dialogue. While generally well written, characters can lose distinction through the many exchanges. Exposition is clear and often features some elegant flourishes of writing.
Originality: This book is original and creative in its integration of intriguing transhumanist concepts.
Character/Execution: While the novel's characterizations generally take a back seat to plotting and concept, Sachs's characters are well-rounded, at times quirky, and meaningfully serve the story.
Date Submitted: August 17, 2020
How would you like to be happy all the time? And what if doing so wasn’t merely a personal commitment to positive thinking, but an actual government-mandated banishment of bad thoughts? That, in a nutshell, is the question that forms the basis of T.J. Sachs’ debut novel BETERA’S FACTOR. The plot of the book is somewhat reminiscent of the “The Matrix,” with a touch of “Blade Runner” and “Star Wars” thrown in. Set in a dystopian future, it tells the story of Crawford Lear, an engineer hero who is seeking to free humanity from a false consciousness that’s creating the impression that everything is okay.
In the world of BETERA’S FACTOR, good feelings have been institutionalized to the point in which citizens are literally forced to be happy. It’s the sort of story, familiar in the sci-fi genre, of a futuristic technology that sounds good on the surface, but in reality is the precursor for civilization-wide evil, which is enforced with military and sentinels. The Beta Union’s constitution is described as “a code despising everything but joy, which robbed its citizens of the capacity to experience all their feelings.” Constitutions, alas, were made to be broken. It’s therefore up to Crawford, who has special psychic powers, to take on the power structure of the Beta Union habitat–named for its creator, the titular Betera Eaton–to bring about change.
The 354-page book can be a bit difficult to follow and also drags at times. But Sachs’ novel takes its premise in some surprising and creative directions, while also successfully building a compelling, and at times, chilling world. It would be a reach to draw too many lessons from this story in terms of specific modern-day political considerations, nor does the book attempt to draw them. Nevertheless, it’s always good to be reminded of the dangers of overzealous technology and government.
Sachs, a longtime sci-fi enthusiast who previously wrote a collection of personal essays, lists Ray Bradbury, Philip K. Dick and Frank Herbert as influences, which makes sense given the novel’s style and tenor. The book leads up to a shocking twist–and per Sachs’ website, a sequel, BETERA’S LEGACY, is already in the works.
While BETERA’S FACTOR can be difficult to follow at times, it’s a winning debut novel about a dystopian society, a plot to free the masses, and the shocking truth of what’s behind it all.
An intriguing read…
Fans of science fiction will welcome Sachs’s well-written tale of tyranny, rebellion, and shifting loyalties in space. Life is peaceful and content, at least on the surface, on the Beta Union habitat, a utopian society ruled by powerful senate and sadistic military that keeps its citizens in a constant state of joy and contentment using a duplicitous scientific system. But fear and unrest simmer slowly under the surface in the society. Crawford Lear, the senior engineer, is bestowed with special psychic powers and with the help of powerful allies, he sets on to free the masses from the twisted regime of Beta Union. The rebellion begins and as Crawford and his friends make their escape; they realize they themselves are not immune to treachery. Sachs provides complex characters; particularly Crawford, who struggles with a realistic moral dilemma, especially toward the end after realizing his own role in Betera Eaton’s sadistic game plan. The reader will enjoy the cozy friendships and shifting loyalties between different protagonists, the backdrop of a dictatorship-ruled society, the intriguing theme of technology-fueled feelings of happiness and contentment among the masses, and thoughtful engagement with the question of what happens when the technology takes over the humanity. The narrative is fueled by high tension with suspense at the back. The book lags a bit while it comes to pacing, but the accessible prose and the adept execution (of intricate plot) makes for an engrossing read. The shocking twist at the end leaves option open for another installment to follow.