Book Review : Nik Korpon - The Rebellion's Last Traitor (2017)
The world could've done without the 2016 U.S election. I don't believe it served any purpose, except maybe getting people interested in their political future again. Long gone are the days where you could vote for handsome and responsible Barack Obama, wash your hands with it and live the happily ever after. Along with the renewal of political interest comes political art, and one of the first political things I've had the privilege to read since the election is Nik Korpon's science fiction novel The Rebellion's Last Traitor, published last week by Angry Robot Books. And it's...pretty loaded. It definitely pulls no punches about what it is or what it's trying to be.
The Rebellion's Last Traitor is set in a distant future on a planet that is most likely Earth. The dueling protagonist Henraek and Walleus are both dealing with the repression of the Tathadann party, which took over Eitan City and cut it from its past. The former is working as a memory thief. Personal memories have become a commodity in a world where the dominating political force have rewritten the past. The latter is leading a different fight, taking care of children forsaken by the conflict and trying to build a future beyond immediate survival. The precarious balance changes when Henraek harvests a memory of his wife dying in the rebellious that tore Eitan City asunder. The truth shall set you free, they said. See where this is going?
This barely is a science fiction novel. The setting of Eitan City is original and intricate, which the more devoted fans of the genre will appreciate, but it is primarily an edgy allegory for many contemporary conflicts. There are many parallels with the Israeli-Palestinian war in particular: both factions are in a perpetual state of war, inhabit the same city, demonize one another's point of view without trying to understand it and, perhaps the most captivating thing about The Rebellion's Last Traitor, there's a certain level of contextualization of terrorism offered from the perspective of an oppressed community. I thought it was quite courageous of Nik Korpon to try and humanize such a difficult and...well...contemporary subject. He's not glorifying or romanticizing it, but merely trying to understand where it stems from and that aspect of The Rebellion's Last Traitor is quite engaging.
It's a very Ballard-ian thing to do, taking a contemporary issue like terrorism and using a distant setting to discuss it in an honest and unflinching way. The immortal J.G Ballard often did it in order to allow himself the ethical leeway to discuss whatever the fuck he wanted. Novels like High-Rise or Kingdom Come are two examples where he used the same technique in a radically different way. The Rebellion's Last Traitor is not quite Ballard-ian, though. It uses its narrative philosophy, but it's very much an earnest and visceral novel, which makes it bizarre sometimes.
There is a long and winding subplots involving parenthood that kept losing my attention. I don't have any kids, so it probably was a variable in the equation, but I thought The Rebellion's Last Traitor could've used either less of these. The line between science fiction and contemporary drama blurred during these scenes and you know, I ended up reading things I did not exactly signed up for. It never became a major thing, but it slowed the novel down and made it, in my opinion, more complicated than it needed to be. The political intrigue of The Rebellion's Last Traitor was complex and layered enough to hold the fort.
I've enjoyed The Rebellion's Last Traitor mostly on a cerebral level. It's a sharp and clever novel that manages to discuss difficult themes without ever being sneaky about it, which is quite an accomplishment. I liked how it used individual memories as a stand-in for truth, which is both problematic and inevitable. I thought it was a little slow and lumbering at times, though. It never becomes painful or frustrating to read or anything. The Rebellion's Last Traitor is a very earnest novel and I thought it could've used more of a cut-to-the-core-of-things approach to its own story. Anyway, it's an incredibly smart novel which made it somewhat of a thrill to read in itself. The best thing about The Rebellion's Last Traitor is that you don't need to be a science fiction fan to enjoy it. It's about politics, war and a lot about the fall of society too. There is something for everyone in it.