The Jericho Iteration, Allen Steele

Ace, 1994, 279 pages, C$25.95 hc, ISBN 0-441-00097-5

It has become something of a cliché to set future stories in California against a backdrop dominated by the aftermath of a massive Earthquake. On the other coast, at least one novel dealt with a devastating earthquake on New York (Charles Scarborough’s Aftershock). Few writers, however, have examined the effect of an earthquake on non-coastal areas of the United States.

Enters Allen Steele, who lived a few years in Saint Louis. An ex-investigative reporter and freelance journalist, Steele is now regarded as one of the most promising hard-SF writer to have entered the field during the past decade.

In The Jericho Iteration, Steele departs from his usual future history to look at a future Saint-Louis devastated by an major (Richter 7.5) earthquake. The year is 2013 and the hero is Gerry Rosen, an investigative reporter for one of the devastated town’s alternative newspapers.

Even almost a year after the disaster, Saint-Louis is far from being back to its old levels of comfort. Indeed, thousands of homeless people are roaming the city and government officials have instituted martial law over the city, enforced by troopers who take an almost-sadistic delight in their work.

The sad life of Gerry Rosen (grieving father, estranged husband, alcoholic journalist) is thrown out of whack when someone contact him with information not meant for his ears. Soon, bodies begin to pile up and Rosen must not only save himself, but also find out the truth…

The Jericho Iteration is, in short, a standard “lone-investigator-against-conspiracy” story told reasonably well. The first-person narration is up to Steele’s usual high standards. Most readers, however, will have seen most of the plot elsewhere. At least three times, the next plot point can be predicted with a fair degree of accuracy. The novel is even less successful when considered from a dynamic perspective: Rosen doesn’t evolve a lot (even acknowledging the fact during the last pages) and remains as mildly unlikeable as in the beginning.

There are a few good scenes here and there; I especially liked the resolution of the “laser sniper” episode. The conclusion is not as strong as it might have been, but Steele obviously wanted to wrap everything up in as short a time as possible. Just ignore the fact that Rosen’s presence by the end of the story is rather less than essential to the resolution of the plot…

Certain SF elements, like “Ruby Fulcrum”, are handled without many surprises and with assumptions that would be more adapted to SF movies than written works. Otherwise, good use is made of the gadgets, especially during the otherwise unsatisfying finale.

But even with this substandard effort, Steele manages to deliver a competent action/adventure SF thriller. While your time and money would be best spent on something better, The Jericho Iteration is not exactly a bad choice.

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