Book Review: Golden State by Ben H. Winters

This is actually not one of my throwback Thursday posts.  I read Golden State a week or two ago and somehow never got around to posting the review.  (So I guess it’s a throwback to a fairly recently read book.)


“Our desire to know the whole truth is what makes us human.  Our understanding that it can’t be known is what keeps us alive.”

Rating:  ★★★1/2

The blurb says this is “Minority Report meets Chinatown.” Never read either but I have seen Minority Report the movie. This is not Minority Report. I think it’s what would happen if you took 1984 and mashed it up with the nonsensical nature of Brave New World and threw in a little Fahrenheit 451.

In the Golden State, The Record is sacred. Everything that can be known and knowable must be recorded for The Record. If it is unknown and unknowable, it must be dismissed, avoided like the plague. In other words, it does not exist. So we have a City-state where absolutely everything is recorded, where some types of people can detect lies, visually or physically. These people go on to be Speculators, truth enforcers. Fiction of any sort is forbidden, books, actors, you name it. History before the Golden State is unknown and unknowable.

So here we have Laszlo Ratesic, age 54, Speculator. He is tasked with investigating the death of a man who fell off a roof. At first it seems pretty cut and dry, no anomalies to be detected. But his partner Paige, knows differently. She’s a hot shot Speculator. Better than everyone else since Laszlo’s brother Charlie was part of the force. And she finds anomalies that Laszlo missed. And so the mystery begins.

It took me until about halfway through the book to really begin enjoying it. Winters’s writing style lacks any sense of urgency. Or maybe it’s not his style but police procedural style. The clues are unraveling but in this case they don’t seem interconnected at all. It’s an anomaly here and an anomaly there but none of them seemed to add up to any one thing, so it was difficult to get excited about picking the book back up until we had the full picture which comes at about the 50/60% mark.

Winters does do a good job with characters. I love that he writes average joes. Nobody extraordinary with special talents. Just an average, middle aged guy, with an average job, divorced, just bumbling through life from food truck to diner to donut shop. I know it doesn’t sound exciting, but it’s so very human.

I do appreciate the message he conveys. That a world based solely on truth is a sorry way to live, but also that a world built entirely on fiction is no good either. I also liked the feel of the setup. How Arlo is writing a novel to tell us the events (novels as we know them, i.e. fiction, are strictly forbidden in the Golden State). I liked the little pauses for reflections and how it was written in a different font. It gave me the sense that I was reading a lost artifact of the Golden State.

My issue was the ending. It felt very rushed. The rest of the book was content to take it’s slow sweet time, stopping to consider hot dog trucks and greet strangers with random facts like “Limestone is a sedimentary rock.” The ending is crammed into like 20 pages and answers absolutely nothing. It’s less ambiguous than Future Home of the Living God, but still not satisfying.

Ha- I guess that’s the point isn’t it? The truth of this novel is unknown and unknowable. *slow clap* Well done Winters.

Sigh. I give up on this review. I really need to stop reading dystopians.


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