Genre: Scifi; Thriller; Political Fiction
At the year-end extravaganza held in 2098, Tom Florin became a statistic. He was terminated by liberated punctuation, a fancy made-up term by the government for killing people to keep the population under control Two years later, in 2100 the names of the new chosen ones were published for all to see. what names will be listed and who will get to go to the extravaganza parade and then be led to the glorious extermination stations during the Super Sunday halftime celebration. Barbara Freeman, Age 16 was one of the “supposedly” lucky names chosen for the 2100 celebration which is to be held during the Super Sunday Halftime show. During the show which will be broadcast for the world to see, Barbara and several thousand more are planned to be terminated. Most of them are willing and happy to be part of the termination process, but Barbara, her boyfriend, and her folks are not. Can Barbara escape her pending fate?
POLITICAL FICTION DISCLAIMER: This book is a work of fiction meant for entertainment purposes. Any implication of political or social alignment of the characters or themes with real life politicians, parties, or political/social groups does not necessarily reflect the ideals of real persons, including the reviewer. This review is a nonbias reception of the content contained therein, not admission to association with or approval of any real-life entities or legalities. This review is a comment on the book for what it is: a work of fiction.
I was thrilled to see Stanley Straub had released a new book. While keeping with the scientific thriller genre I’ve come to enjoy from him, ‘The Terminus List’ is also political fiction. Much like social fiction, I love this genre, most specifically when it is done in a science fiction or fantasy atmosphere. This book in particular makes me think ‘Dean Koontz’ meets ‘George Orwell.’
There is a LOT to unpack here, so bear with me. And please remember that this is my personal interpretation.
The story begins with wife Judy and husband Bill as they view the annual extermination of randomly selected individuals whose name were placed on ‘The Terminus List,’ a legal procedure passed to help control not only the population count, but those citizens still living. The high-tech television, known as a visi-screen is an amazing piece of technology that allows the broadcaster to connect to its audience, quite literally. Bill fears that this connection (meant to allow for voting via fingerprints and read viewer satisfaction) is capable of much more, like getting inside his head to read his thoughts and sense his emotions.
There starts the stark difference between the two. Both are strong, dedicated people loyal to their loved ones, but while Bill is more the follower solely focused on the happiness of those around him, Judy is a definite leader with a tenacious tendency that borders on terrifying. After their daughter and her boyfriend are placed on The Terminus List, the couple decide it’s time for action. Judy accepts the situation as an invitation to overthrow the current government while Bill’s prim focus is simply keeping his family safe.
They manage to escape into new identities with the help of Mark, an incredibly gifted scientist of sorts. Even though it was already tense, this is where things get really interesting. Judy, having the full support of her husband and the other fugitives living under new identities, begins holding rallies to run for public office. The author brings in aspects of past/current political issues, including ‘The Silent Majority’ concept introduced and used by various conservative politicians. I found myself comparing Judy’s campaign to Trump’s in many ways.
The sentiment that ‘absolute power corrupts absolutely’ is very well acknowledged in this book. Starting with the best of intentions, along with the continued pure intentions of her followers, Judy’s desire for power and to run the world as she sees fit gradually grows to where it seems she has become a different person, not unlike those she had previously deemed evil or unfit. Everyone involved in her administration is faced with having to do things that they’d before seen as nothing less of evil and manipulative. ‘The greater good’ is another concept that comes to mind here. Even through this, Judy can be seen genuinely trying in to be a good person and leader, such as her wish to help the homeless instead of demonizing them.
However, she keeps having issues with reigning her emotions in to make sure her actions are noble instead of becoming as bad as what she sought to destroy, as she has found a love for the power and fame she has procured. In several ways it makes her blinded. For instance, there are times she comments on her opposition stooping so low as to do illegal things to get the advantage, while forgetting it was her own illegal activity that saved their family and how The Terminus List was a completely legal procedure. To me, this points out how the law should not be used as a definitive moral highground and how easy it is to become hypocritical if we’re lost (however good our intention is) in a single mindset or scheme.
This book also introduces a few different factions which outline the perception of good and evil as well as the various forms of collected thoughts in political or social parties. You have Judy and her family who are the rebels wanting to change the world for the better, only to realize in a world of politics, things aren’t always simple. Then there is Sara and her people who run the current government who are for the majority of the story seen as the corrupt leaders who don’t truly care for the people. However, it turns out they are not so completely different from Judy’s group. Both place high emphasis on the law, despite failing to be consistent about it, and struggle with keeping an innocent sense of morale versus the tough decisions their careers need to make. It’s also shown that the current regime is not near as evil as once thought, after new adversaries are discovered.
In addition, we’re shown two alien groups: one comprised of beings who wish nothing more to rape, torture, and murder and the other whose game isn’t entirely clear due to the mysteries surrounding them. Here, beliefs regarding immigration, including deportation versus legal sentencing (such as capital punishment and less-than-humane detainment) are brought up. In the story, the one race is provably inherently malicious while the other’s morality is more akin to real-life in that it can’t be definitively said all of them are bad. Just a reminder that this is my personal interpretation; I cannot claim to know anything of the author’s intended message or even if there was one. But what I took from it is a debate on whether or not IF evil (namely inherent evil) can be proven, how that changes the acceptable treatments of said persons in said situations from any/all political viewpoints. If everyone would end up agreeing or not on what the consequences would be.
All these groups share the common desire for power, to be able to run the world as they see fit, to help and destroy as they deem acceptable, and each sees the other as untrustworthy or even evil. The use of such an array of opposing mindsets further outlines the reality of how gray political, social, and even moral issues can be. It shows how in the end, how strong the majority wish is to see a change, even if that change comes with flaws or ends up being more devious or atrocious than where we currently stand, is what drives the mostly arbitrary shifts in the world and its leaders as we know it. It makes it difficult to see through everything to get to the truth, especially when you’ve become dedicated to something and someone else disagrees with you. Nobody wants to be wrong and most often, we all think we’re right and are willing to fight to the death about it.
I felt that Straub created an atmosphere that really made the reader think about politics from conservative and liberal standpoints as well as those in between, which is something I adore. The story was much more than just political intrigue. The scifi elements of the story (which include artificial intelligence, alien races, and awesome technology) kept it unique and entertaining throughout. Much as Straub has become known for, he has found a way to turn things on their heads in unsuspected ways. At the conclusion of the book, I literally told my phone, “Are you fucking kidding me?” because there had already been a lot of curious revelations, yet the ending left us with one more: a big one too that drove home all the political/moral debates that I’ve commented on.
I’ll leave with a warning that if politics and the uncertainty of the world’s future in this aspect are touchy subjects, ‘The Terminus List’ could very well be too much for you. Go into it with a level head, and a mind that’s willing to be open.
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~Sahreth ‘Baphy’ Bowden
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