I WANT TO BELIEVE by James K. Decker
One of the themes in The Burn Zone is ‘how much can people be made to believe?’ In the book, this concept is taken to an extreme, but it began with me wondering how hard (or easy) it would be to convince a large number of people something was true, even when it clearly was not.
I mean sure, you could convince a small group of people that black was white – a sliver of the population could be made to believe just about anything – but how about, say, an entire nation? It’s easy to say ‘people are sheep and can be made to believe anything’ but there’s a caveat buried in that statement, which is that the person making it is not one of the sheep. Even if you could get a lot of people to believe something patently untrue, wouldn’t there be at least a subset of free-thinkers who would see through the lie? Wouldn’t they share information, and get validation that proved they were right in spite of what everyone else claimed?
In The Burn Zone, an alien race called the Haan crash land in the fictional city of Hangfei, wiping out a quarter of a million people in the process. That would seem reason enough to dislike and distrust them, and yet fifty years later, human surrogates are caring for haan young and eighty percent of the nation’s food supply is being funneled to the haan, even while the rest of the country, and the world at large, starve. Even as poorer nations push at their borders, attempting to take what they need to survive. The people of Hangfei seem to accept that things need to be this way, and will even defend it, but what could possibly convince them that this arrangement was in their best interest? Even if it was, could you ever convince them of it?
I decided that, given human nature and the way we form opinions that you could, under the right set of circumstances. People of every country have historically traded freedoms for security, and the people of Hangfei have a lot to fear. The haan offer wealth, technology, power and protection. The people are hungry, but they’re also scared. They’re scared they’ll be overwhelmed by the desperate barbarians at the gate, and scared that even if they’re not they’ll succumb to the same decay that the rest of the world has – that even if they are the last to fall, they will still fall.
Add to that the fact that, although they consider themselves free, the people of Hangfei don’t really live in a free society. The city is under martial law. Information comes from strictly controlled sources, and those who dissent tend to disappear. Attempts at contact from the outside are blocked, and attempts to contact the world beyond their borders get you labeled a spy and thrown in prison. The haan have the support of the government, and in turn, the government has the support of the haan. Together they control the flow of information, for better or worse, in support of a larger plan which will, they promise, benefit the greater good. Given the alternative, most opt to believe in a plan they know little to nothing about. You can see those dynamics in effect in the real world, even now.
Like the real world, things in The Burn Zone are never absolute. It’s difficult in Hangfei to point your finger and say ‘those are the bad guys’, but it becomes even more difficult when you don’t, at the outset, know the full truth about the world you live in. Before you can know what you believe, and whose side you’re on, you first have to be able to distinguish what’s true from what’s false. Even when, with a nudge from the highly advanced haan, you might be compelled to truly believe that black is white. Finding the truth would be very difficult, and very risky, and for Sam Shao, it is both. I’ll leave to you to discover what it is along with her.
About the author:
James K. Decker was born in New Hampshire in 1970, and has lived in the New England area since that time. He developed a love of reading and writing early on, participating in young author competitions as early as grade school, but the later discovery of works by Frank Herbert and Issac Asimov turned that love to an obsession.
He wrote continuously through high school, college and beyond, eventually breaking into the field under the name James Knapp, with the publication of the Revivors trilogy (State of Decay, The Silent Army, and Element Zero). State of Decay was a Philip K. Dick award nominee, and won the 2010 Compton Crook Award. The Burn Zone is his debut novel under the name James K. Decker.
He now lives in MA with his wife Kim.
Courtesy of the author, I have a copy of The Burn Zone by James K. Decker for one (1) lucky winner!
Contest is open to US residents only. No PO Boxes, please. To enter, just fill out the form below. Contest ends March 22. I’ll draw a name on March 23, and notify winner via email.