Dave Hutchinson is more widely known for his dystopian Fractured Europe series, whose first book I tried some time ago but did not finish: it was a good, interesting concept, that much I could see, but there was an underlying feeling of… sadness, for want of a better word, that ultimately drove me away from that story. My curiosity remains, however, and I don’t rule out the possibility of returning to the series at another time and maybe with a different frame of mind.
Meanwhile, I wanted to try something different from this author so that when I saw this novella mentioned I knew the different premise and genre might be what I needed, so I took the plunge: Acadie is a short but intriguing story that piqued my interest from page one to the – quite unexpected – end. The central character is Duke (or rather John Wayne Faraday, the nickname being one of the many tongue-in-cheek jokes scattered throughout the narrative), formerly a lawyer with the Bureau of Colonization that he left after a callous incident he publicly denounced. Adrift and without a job, Duke is contacted by an agent of the Colony, a remote conglomeration of artificial habitats created by Isobel Potter, a genetic scientist who fled Earth when her extreme experiments on human genome made her an outlaw. After 500 years away from the mother planet and the Bureau, Potter and her acolytes have created a society where extreme modifications are the norm and freedom of choice is the law: Duke has been elected President for the simple reason that he doesn’t want the job, and that’s where the real story starts, as a probe from Earth manages to slip through the Colony’s defense systems and threatens to expose the location of Potter and her people.
The overall tone of the story is light and humorous, mostly because of the apparent happy-go-lucky attitude of the Colony’s dwellers toward anything organized or even faintly smelling of imposed order: the rebels have created a society where the highly intelligent inhabitants can be anything they like, either in career choice or appearance – Duke’s meeting with a group of Tolkien enthusiasts modified to look like Hobbits, Elves and so on is indeed a case in point. Something changes, however, once the probe from Earth is discovered, not least because it was able to slip through the sophisticated net of countermeasures that were put in place: for this reason Duke is tasked with organizing the massive endeavor of picking up stakes and moving the Colony somewhere else, since their perfect hiding place has certainly been discovered.
Here is where a huge shift occurs: as the rest of the Colony moves away toward greener pastures, Duke and his team remain behind to insure no one will be aware of their whereabouts, and that’s when direct contact with the Earth probe’s AI changes everything, in a very unexpected, very dramatic way, taking away from the readers every single certainty they had gathered until that point. It’s been a long while since I was so stunned by a story and by the way the narrative managed to lull me into a false sense of security, only to open its trap under my feet at the very last moment.
Well done indeed…