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Book Review: 'Thought Criminal' by Michael Rectenwald

Tamara Wilhite is a technical writer, industrial engineer, mother of two, and published sci-fi and horror author.

Rectenwald is a best-selling nonfiction author. He wrote "Beyond Woke" and "Google Archipelago". In his science fiction book “Thought Criminal”, a small group struggles to maintain even the concept of individuality and free will in the face of an ever-more powerful hive mind. They struggle to even connect with each other when every aspect of the system is suspect – including other people. That makes “Thought Criminal” a post-Singularity dystopian novel, though it has its strengths and weaknesses.

The Cover of 'Thought Criminal' by Michael Rectenwald

The Cover of 'Thought Criminal' by Michael Rectenwald

The Strengths of “Thought Criminal”

Thought Criminal is a short but intense dystopian post-Singularity story. The author delivers a fully realized story in less than 200 pages, where others would stretch it out twice as long.

This book gets points for having a strong scientific foundation for the nanotech and biology involved in taking cybernetics to an involuntary hive mind connection. Furthermore, you don’t have to have a background in nanotech or neurology to understand the explanations conveyed in accessible conversations. That’s in contrast to many high-tech scifi novels that rely on data dumps to convey information, and you’re left researching what it means …

I like how the author identifies flaws in the system, noting that such things always exist no matter how complex it is. Even when it is a complex AI system that can control what people literally think.

The Flaws of the Book “Thought Criminal”

There is a certain degree of elitism in the book. Every character is a professor, a doctor or a researcher. At no point do we even see a ranch owner or house cleaner, though the main character stays at multiple rentals, much less talk to them. We don’t even meet his minor daughter, who wouldn’t yet be a member of the intelligentsia.

Observations about “Thought Criminal”

The hive mind initially relies on a “virus” to spread to those who wouldn’t voluntarily accept the biotech-nanites that hijack higher logic functions. The social control methods in the name of controlling the virus are incredibly apt in a “post-COVID” world. Forget face masks, and wear a full hood with oxygen tank. Let’s control people and the flow of information by preventing face-to-face meetings of more than two people unless in the same family.

Those who question the nature of the virus or the oppressive restrictions in the name of controlling it are considered crazy and taken in for “treatment”. You’re not released until you agree. This parallels real world examples whether lockdown measures to control a virus based on hyperbolic disease models was politicization of science, only to be called crazy virus deniers. Or how billions were thrown into poverty while education and healthcare were disrupted, as while asking about the cost-benefit ratio gets you called selfish or even a murderer by privileged elites who work from home and rely on everyone else to work in the real world. That makes “Thought Criminal” an apt commentary on post-COVID politics as well as a post-Singularity dystopia.

The Chinese Sesame Credit system has been implemented in this dystopian novel. Your status as a subversive limits your ability to enter Smart Cities or find work. As a banned researcher, you aren’t allowed to work in anything theoretical though piecework may be allowed. And everyone checks “the system” for your status automatically, because all hiring and payments are processed by the same system. It is hard to manage funds outside of the official network, though it isn’t completely impossible.

Summary

I give “Thought Criminal” by Michael Rectenwald four stars. It has a great concept and decent delivery, though it is thin on character development and characters in general.

© 2021 Tamara Wilhite

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