Author: Alec Birri
Narrator: Jonathan Keeble
Publisher: Essential Music Limited
Released: Jan. 2019
Genre: Science Fiction Thriller
What if you knew men, women and children were being slaughtered but had to cover it up?’
Fake news. Alternative facts. Truth, lies, damn lies and statistics. Just who are we to believe? In this near-future dystopian thriller, that will be United Nations Police “moderators”.
Thirty year old UNPOL officer Richard Warren has been embedded with the BBC and not seeing eye-to-eye with journalist Sarah Dyer is just the start of his problems. News of an Ebola pandemic is being withheld, and when it’s discovered Sarah’s artistic savant brother is involved, Richard’s determination to get to the truth takes an unexpected turn. But what if the truth must never be known?
And Richard thought Sarah was a challenge. The very concept of right and wrong is about to be tested and in a way that’s going to make fake news look like quality journalism.
Alec Birri served thirty years with the UK Armed Forces. He commanded an operational unit that experimented in new military capabilities classified at the highest level (Top Secret Strap 3) and it is this that forms the basis of his novels. Although semi-autobiographical, for national security and personal liberty reasons, the events and individuals portrayed have to be fiction but are still nonetheless in keeping with his experiences.
If you regularly enjoy listening to audiobooks then this Shakespearean actor will need no introduction. Winner of a 2016 SOVAS award, Jonathan’s voice is rightly recognized as being one of the best, and his narration of Alt Truths is no exception.
‘She’s fine—same as you—mild shock and a few cuts and bruises, that’s all.’ Richard turned from the policeman and towards the café. It was largely intact. The pub opposite, however, had been peppered with shards of glass from the window Sarah and he had been looking out of. Medics were busy administering first aid to the building’s painters, one of who lay motionless on the ground. ‘Something must have exploded,’ said Richard.
Getting fed information about viral diseases and pandemics can be quite scary, especially when these viruses are known to be widespread and very deadly. What would happen if someone knew more about the outbreak than they were telling the public? What if someone was trying to spread false news as a scare tactic to cover up something even bigger? Is that possible? Birri has an interesting—and quite frightening—perspective to government and the political prowess over war, which will leave readers questioning the lengths that man will travel to see a change in culture.
Richard Warren and Sarah Deyer are both truth seekers. Richard, a UNPOL officer has his cover blown after a mini explosion occurs while having coffee at the local café. Both Richard and Sarah are arrested and then bailed out by Richard’s boss, only to find himself at Sarah’s house with her family and a bunker full of nuclear weapons. What starts as mutual distaste for one another, surges into somewhat of a romantic relationship between the two. When Sarah’s autistic brother leads Richard to some questionable activity at the day center he frequents on the weekends, both Richard and Sarah agree to team up in search of the real story behind his cryptic drawings and personality changes. What is discovered to be a laboratory divested in curing the Ebola pandemic, turns out to be a cover for a much larger scheme that involves not only his boss, but even some individuals in powerful government and political positions. Only when they realize the severity of their discovery, do they find themselves in danger—danger of the genocide kind. Everyone states that they’ve not yet reached a war, but war has begun to wage on their consciences and they are faced to either speak out about what is happening or accept an alternate truth that they have been given.
Birri has a fantastic story, filled with creativity, originality and intriguing characters. The pace is very quick and the first few chapters may provide some difficulty with understanding; however, there is a turning point. Birri creates a sense of foreboding that leads up to a very detrimental plot meant to blatantly question the reader’s loyalty and ethical evaluation of themselves. The story appears to be written fairly well. Since this review compliments the audiobook, Keeble does provide a very speedy voice relay; but, it is enjoyable and differentiation in characters is present. If you are a reader of medical or scientific thrillers, this may be perfect for you.
An audiobook was provided to Turning Another Page by Audiobookworm Promotions and in no way affects the honesty of this review. We provide a five-star rating to Alt Truths by Alec Birri.
Alec Birri’s Top-Ten Tips For Writing A Dystopia
Blame Brexit. Blame Trump. Blame the rise of populism in general if you must, but there is no doubt we are currently living in what historians may one day refer to as ‘interesting’ times. And, if you know your pseudo-Chinese proverbs, that’s not meant to settle your thoughts. The literary upshot of that? A resurgence of interest in dystopian classics like Orwell’s 1984, Huxley’s Brave New World and the more modern, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Attwood. Want to have a crack at ensuring historians include your name in that illustrious list? Then read on.
- Write what you know. Don’t even think about penning a dystopia unless you’ve already spent decades living in a one. What? You haven’t? You mean to say you’ve never been denied entry to a bar, stopped by the police or made to do something you didn’t want to? Take all that and dial it up to eleven. Welcome to your dystopia.
- Use technology but avoid ‘hard’ sci-fi. Best done by setting your dystopia in the not-too-distant future. That way it’s more likely to feel ‘real’ to the reader, i.e. if we’re not careful, our children might end up living in it one day.
- It’s a thriller first. And some other blah about the environment, population control, conspiracy theories, thought police, eugenics, #MeToo, etc., second. Be passionate about your favourite citizen-oppressing subject but don’t let the detail of it get in the way of the action.
- It’s about us. It might be the narrator’s job to keep the listener entertained, but how you explore the human condition will ultimately decide your literary legacy. The chapter involving the rat in Orwell’s 1984 is gripping, but the way a hidden autocracy turned its citizens into unthinking, unfeeling but above all, obedient servants was far more unsettling.
- Don’t ignore utopias. A perfect society may make for a boring read, but lambs don’t lie down with lions for long.
- Use simple prose. The novel’s going to be complicated enough. The last thing you want your audience asking is, ‘But what’s it about?’
- Sex, religion and politics. Might be barred from the dinner table (well, the topics of conversation are) but all three are a must in a dystopian thriller. Remember, you’re aiming to explore why societies do the things they do and digging deep reveals these guys to be the main culprits.
- Avoid anything gratuitous. Particularly when it comes to writing political opinions that coincide with your own. If crucial to the plot, then have someone else in the scene state the opposing view no matter how distasteful to you personally. Let the reader decide.
- Build the novel. As evolution (creationism?) seems to have built us – step by step. Why does that appear to have resulted in so much inequality?
- And finally. Aim to satisfy the audience in this way: They have enjoyed an exciting thriller which has given them a lot to think about.
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