Volume 15, Number 01, Winter, 1997

The Third Force

By Marc Laidlaw

(Scribners Paperback 0-684-82245-8 $11.00, 256pp, pb) 1996.
Cover by Haruhiko Shono.
Reviewed by Anders Monsen
February 1997

Few totalitarian societies portrayed in fiction have had the impact of George Orwell’s 1984. This is the vision against which almost all other dystopias are compared. It is bleak, disturbing, and uniquely British. It is also the first vision that comes to mind when reading Marc Laidlaw’s strange new novel. The Third Force reminds me of 1984 mainly in the setting and geopolitical theatre.

The future is a bleak one in Laidlaw’s novel. The cities seem strangely barren, yet contain an infrastructure for huge train systems that no one seems to use. The government, if one can use that term, runs its operations from an old hotel, and appears to consist of a handful of individuals. We do not get the endless bureaucratic sense of 1984. Supposedly, there is an underground movement that plots against the totalitarian rule, but this movement is confused.

Scientists and the government are pursuing the uses and potentials of a strange source of energy, xenium, which is derived from a meteor. The ore contains an almost endless supply of energy, which the scientists seeks to harness but one of the main government leaders, by the name of Slowslop, intends instead to turn into torture and brainwashing devices.

Laidlaw ends up with a confusing collection of events and speculations. The book is subtitled ‘A novel of Gadget,’ which apparently is a bestselling CD-ROM. Unfortunately, The Third Force reads like a game where a variety of individual players have strung out in their own directions. As an expression of mood and despair the novel does succeed, but this is not enough to sustain the reader very long.

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