Volume 26, Number 1, Fall 2007

Beyond Future Shock

By Alex Alaniz, Ph.D.

Booksurge, 2005
Reviewed by Anders Monsen
Fall 2007

Beyond Future Shock spans more than a hundred years in time, from the final days of WWI to the mid-21st century, with a brief epilogue 7,000 years later. Yet it is the first 100 years of the narrative that sees the greatest technological leap in mankind’s history, and it convincingly portrays both the scientific and the human aspects of life and change during these times. The main characters are a trio of kids who embrace the opportunities in an elite German high school, in the dawning of the Nazi age. While only one of these characters embraces Nazism (with grave irony given that character’s ancestry, which no one save the reader ever discovers), the other two never feel the pull of this political system, and instead face terrible tragedies throughout their lives as a result.

Initially drawn together into a “three musketeers” kind of team as nine-to-twelve-year-olds, they come from disparate backgrounds. Heinreich von Onsager is a young aristocrat, his pilot father killed on the second to last day of the first world war. Lise Reber is a young girl drawn to science, especially quantum mechanics. Hans Fritz, the third and youngest, a brilliant mathemetician with a father who despises him, embarks on a dark journey to prove his father wrong, in the end destroying the friendship that at first saved him at school.

Alex Alaniz appears to have both a love of science and flying, and skillfully conveys that sense on paper. His characters are real, and there is little or no poetic justice in the novel. Instead, evnts unfold in all too crushing realism, and there are only brief moments of happiness for some of the characters. Much of the meat of this novel takes place between 1930 and 1945, as the three children grow into adults and seek their place in the world. Alaniz draws very sympathetic and memorable characters whose lives one cares about, and seeing the tragedies unfold at times makes for difficult reading.

As Heinreich discovers his own love of flying at the school, and falls in love with Lise, young Hans seeks a surrogate to his brutal father, and finds the SS. His soul twists into something dark and bitter, and in the end he betrays his former friends. As their world spirals into a new war, Heinreich and Lise are torn apart, not to be re-united for many decades. For as the war ends, Heinreich becomes part of an American flight testing program, while Lise is taken against her will to help the Soviet nuclear program. As the years fly by we see personal and technological change, witnessing even more tragedy for both characters. As they age into the new century, kept alive by nascent regenerative cocktails, the two former lovers find each other again, only to battle anew the dual threats of age and terror.

For as technology brings tremendous advantages, there always seems to be dark designs and devices that accompany any great scientific breakthroughs. As humanity accelerates toward the Singularity, people merge with technology and rely on massive server farms to store backups. Just as zombie computers are hijacked to send spam, soon people are hijacked for similar purposes, and Heinreich and Lise look to the skies to escape Earth. But such an escape is far from easy, and the battle for resources follows them to the moon and beyond.

The prose may not always be as smooth and polished as I like, but the story certainly kept me captivated. Alaniz blends both captivating prose that moves events along with several expositionary pauses, or hints about future events that sometimes tears the reader away from the fact that the book is supposed to be a work of fiction. Sometimes the historical break-points succeed, such as with the persecution of the Jews in Nazi Germany, which brought to mind the many horrific scenes from such movies as Schindler’s List. Sometimes these fail, as in the aftermath of 9/11, when Baron von Onsager rails against American dependence on foreign oil and vows to find a solution.

Beyond Future Shock grapples with the political and scientific ideas and issues of the 20th century, and far beyond, in entertaining and thoughtful ways. Occasional narrative intrustions hobble the book slightly as a pure work of fiction. It raises many key points about humanity’s past and possible future, and the motivations of individuals who commit evil acts. The book does not shy away from the fact that people change over time, and fast friends can change both instantly and over time into dire enemies. The scene in the Soviet gulag where Heinreich’s good friend slowly is molded into a staunch communist willing and able to murder small children for his cause is quite chilling.

The book appears to have been published by a small press in 2005, but is available via Amazon.com. Alaniz conveys a strong sense of belief in humanity and individuality, and this book is both an accusation of the horrors of collectivism (from the human kind as well as a possible future technological one), and the sense that the human spirit needs to be free, and that it always needs to seeks new heights.

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