Review by D.A Lascelles
Hollywood does a good line in ‘near future dystopian science fiction’. Forgoing the distant centuries portrayed in Star Trek, Star Wars and similar, where everything is clean and nice and unfamiliar, these sort of stories are set in a time which is almost but not quite the present day. It could be a year from now or 10 years, long enough for whatever scientific advance or social change the story is about to have happened but close enough that there are still many familiar things around – mobile phones, well known car manufacturers, designer labels and so on. Not only do these worlds allow a good profit margin on the product placement, they also give the viewers a good scare as they realise that the things happening in the film could happen to them because that world is just like our world! You know the sort of film I mean – the recent Tom Cruise version of Phillip K Dick’s Minority Report, Christopher Nolan’s Inception, and Michael Bay’s The Island are just three examples from my collection and there are many others out there.
I mention the above because Human Legacy Project is an example of a story set in just such a world. Cantrell describes an oppressive regime operating in what could be an America in the not too distant future and the subversive elements trying to undermine it. We are drawn into the story through the eyes of one of the operatives of an organisation known as the Human Legacy Project which started life as a legitimate research organisation but went underground after being outlawed. Our hero is called upon to carry out an important mission destined to fulfil the destiny of the Project along with a number of other operatives. The main thrust of the story is how they achieve this goal.
This central plot is good and tight with plenty of tension and a denouement worthy of the well written and described world. The main flaw with this plot, however, is that it is too thin. There is not enough good material in there to fill out the novella and this may have been better off as short story. Conversely, there is a load of background information delivered as exposition in every alternate chapter which is what bulks it out to novella length. This exposition paints a wonderfully dark world and explains exactly how things got to where they are when the story starts but entire chapters of just this can get tedious. It feels like a short story that is padded out to make it a novella. Perhaps this would have been better as a novel? That format might have allowed space for more exploration of the world in a showing rather than telling manner and possibly allowed us to follow the characters in that tense, final scene throughout their lives leading up to their recruitment by the Human Legacy Project and at least a couple more missions before this final one where everything is revealed. Such an approach might well have given the reader more reason to care about the fates of the hero and his companions and more to hate about the regime in which they live.
So, I have to say that I loved this for the world setting and the ending but did not like the wasted opportunity to explore the world in more detail. If I had one word of advice for Christian Cantrell, it would be to revisit this world. Either expand on this current plot or look at other stories in the same world because I feel that if he is successful in this endeavour we could well be seeing Tom Cruise in The Human Legacy Project movie sometime in the not too distant future…