Saturday, February 7, 2015

Book Review: Certain Hypothetical

Certain Hypothetical
Published By: Outpost Stories
Publication Date: September 12, 2014
Page Count: 292
Buy it at Amazon or Barnes & Noble
Source: Kindly Provided by Author
Audience: Adult - Science Fiction

Certain Hypothetical is about the people at the Federal University and Research Center (FURC) in Florida. The outside world has descended into chaos and they must defend themselves against others who would take over the school and use it for (presumably) nefarious purposes.  When the governor of Florida decides that he wants the center under his control, the FURC community seals its gates to prevent a threatened incursion by the state’s National Guard. 

While I liked the premise of Certain Hypothetical (which reminded me of the small college campus in One Second After by William Forstchen), there were a number of issues that I couldn’t get over as a reader.  First, I didn’t feel there was enough background to explain why FURC was important and why the reader should care who was in control of it.  Litherland does not explain what FURC does, what its research priorities are, or what the university part’s academic strengths are.  In fact, I had to go back to the blurb on Goodreads to actually find out what FURC even stood for because it’s not actually defined in the text. But even that didn’t really help me because there aren’t any federal universities that aren’t military academies in the US today (at least none that I could find).  In Litherland’s world, has the federal government begun creating civilian universities?  This feeds into my next issue.

Second, because there wasn’t an adequate explanation of what had happened in the outside world, the political situation in the story just didn’t make sense to me.  Why did the government start creating federal universities?  What is so vital at FURC, or so desperate in the rest of the country, that the governor of Florida will risk an armed incursion to get it?  On the other hand, if the federal government is so splintered that the leaders at FURC don’t even discuss getting help from it, why wouldn’t the president of FURC align the center with the governor who is clearly the power most able to protect the center from others?   It doesn’t make sense to keep the federal vs. state issue alive unless both are viable players.  I’m not saying that Litherland’s characters have necessarily acted irrationally, but there just isn’t enough explanation in the text to let the reader know why they make the choices they do.

My third issue with Certain Hypothetical is that the characters were not as well-developed as they could have been.  While I enjoyed Katherine and Caroline’s characters, everyone else felt pretty bland.  Miles, Anthony, Ken and even David (the other main character) could easily have been interchangeable.  Additionally, the reader must take it on faith that the good guys are good and the bad guys are bad; Litherland doesn’t give us much to go on to help the reader understand the characters’ varying motivations. Also, we see very little of Jonathan Miles who is the director of FURC.  Finally, it always bothers me when very young and/or inexperienced characters defeat big bad guys without a lot of painful lessons and sacrifice along the way.

I really wanted to like this book more; many of my favorite stories are post-apocalyptic, and Litherland’s writing is fine.  The oversights in the world building, however, were too much for me.  I am sorry to say that overall the story was just okay – an interesting idea that fell short of its potential.

EVERYTHING changes when FURC Director Jonathan Miles seals the fourteen square mile compound home to the Federal University and Research Complex and the community that supports it, cutting them all off from the slowly crumbling civilization on the outside—and making them a target of those who want the facilities for themselves.

The director’s daughter Katherine returns to work for FURC Security with a promotion because of the crisis, eager to face any challenge—but as tensions among the residents rise, she encounters greater peril than she had imagined.

David Belue gives up his classes to help install additional defenses, but his curiosity leads him to discover a threat inside the community, endangering his life—because an enemy within waits for just the right moment to betray them all.

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