Author: Alec Birri
Narrator: Jonathan Keeble
Publisher: Essential Music Limited
Released: Jan. 2019
Genre: Science Fiction Thriller
What if you knew men, women and children were being slaughtered but had to cover it up?’
Fake news. Alternative facts. Truth, lies, damn lies and statistics. Just who are we to believe? In this near-future dystopian thriller, that will be United Nations Police “moderators”.
Thirty year old UNPOL officer Richard Warren has been embedded with the BBC and not seeing eye-to-eye with journalist Sarah Dyer is just the start of his problems. News of an Ebola pandemic is being withheld, and when it’s discovered Sarah’s artistic savant brother is involved, Richard’s determination to get to the truth takes an unexpected turn. But what if the truth must never be known?
And Richard thought Sarah was a challenge. The very concept of right and wrong is about to be tested and in a way that’s going to make fake news look like quality journalism.
Alec Birri served thirty years with the UK Armed Forces. He commanded an operational unit that experimented in new military capabilities classified at the highest level (Top Secret Strap 3) and it is this that forms the basis of his novels. Although semi-autobiographical, for national security and personal liberty reasons, the events and individuals portrayed have to be fiction but are still nonetheless in keeping with his experiences.
If you regularly enjoy listening to audiobooks then this Shakespearean actor will need no introduction. Winner of a 2016 SOVAS award, Jonathan’s voice is rightly recognized as being one of the best, and his narration of Alt Truths is no exception.
Having consumed Mr. Birri’s earlier trilogy, Condition, as fast as I possibly could, I really was excited to have the opportunity to listen to this new book, both for the story and for Mr. Keeble’s narration and I wasn’t disappointed although I didn’t connect with it quite as much. I think that’s because there are an awful lot of ideas and plotlines here, not that that’s necessarily a bad thing, mind you. I just tended to get a little confused at times.
From the morass of political correctness to a literally explosive attack to biowarfare (of sorts) to the wonders and dangers of being a savant to fake/manipulated news…it’s all here and more, something for nearly every reader who loves the what-ifs to be found in a well-crafted story. Add to that a narrator who is a master at what he does with a collection of voices that almost make you think you’re listening to a bunch of different people and you’ve got what we all want, a book you just can’t stop listening to 😉
Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2019.
I received this audiobook as part of my participation in a blog tour with Audiobookworm Promotions. The tour is being sponsored by Alec Birri. The gifting of this audiobook did not affect my opinion of it.
‘By her own admission, my next guest has led an unconventional life. Born into privileged American society, and educated at some of Europe’s finest finishing schools, a life of fashion shows, A-list galas, political fundraisers and other well-heeled charity events was never going to satisfy the young Karen Bradley. No, this rebellious teenager had another career in mind and one that could not have been more opposite – pounding the beat as a humble police officer. Fast-forward forty years, and today, the United Nations’ most senior policewoman commands a contingent of UNPOL moderators to the UK. And not without controversy.
- Chief Bradley. Your officers’ methods are currently bringing protesters out onto the streets. How do you respond to those who say forcing people to understand opinions opposed to their own is straight from the pages of a dystopian novel?’
- ‘I would respond by saying: How else are we to tackle the rampant anarchy of so-called social media? The problem is not only beyond the control of the UK’s own police force but worldwide, so making the UN responsible for moderating the internet would seem to make sense.’
- ‘But UNPOL’s remit doesn’t just cover social media, does it? News agencies, political parties, industry, institutions, even children’s organisations. Can you not see how unsettling that might be for some?’
- ‘Desperate times call for desperate measures. Before the UN Security Council voted to accept the measure back in 2025, the world was on the brink of collapse and all because some bored teenager could start a war with a single tweet or post. Thanks to my officers’ interventions, that threat has all but been eradicated.’
- ‘But by forcing everyone to consume views opposing their own?’
- ‘Not ideal, I’ll admit. But it’s preferable to censoring. By ensuring both sides of a story are told, society as a whole is not only safer but better informed.’
- ‘Well, I can see how that could work when it comes to countering lies with the truth, but the other way around? Isn’t that not only immoral but dangerous?’
- ‘An unfortunate necessity. Blame Trump and Brexit. The world has never been more divided thanks to those two and if countering fake news with alternative truths saves the world, then so be it.’
- ‘Two wrongs don’t make a right, Chief Bradley. A lie is a lie no matter how you dress it up.’
- ‘Really? What colour is your tie?’
- ‘I’m sorry?’
- ‘It’s a simple question. What colour is your tie?’
- ‘Er, Blue.’
- ‘It’s green.’
- ‘I think I know the colour of my own tie. Aquamarine if I’m not mistaken.’
- ‘Not to someone who’s colour blind. Some sufferers would say it was green or even grey.’
- ‘Well, as aquamarine is a sort of bluish-green…’
- ‘And now, having considered the opinions of others, are we agreed? Your tie is both blue and green?’
- ‘I suppose so.’
- ‘Welcome to the world of an UNPOL moderator.’
- ‘I think you’ve just proven my point – your methods involve concealing lies behind the smoke and mirrors of loosely connected facts. Which brings me to my next question. What is your relationship with the King?’
- ‘I don’t know what you mean.’
- ‘Don’t be coy, Karen. Is it true you enjoy more than a diplomatic relationship with our country’s monarch?
- ‘It is true my privileged upbringing has allowed doors to be opened that might otherwise be closed, but I can assure you my relationship with His Majesty is innocent.’
- ‘Innocent? You call sneaking into Buckingham Palace at two in the morning “innocent”?’
- ‘We’re both busy people. Finding time for recreation is difficult.’
- ‘Recreation? What sort of recreation?’
- ‘Sex? You mean you’re having an affair with the King?’
- ‘Of course. And not only the King of England. The British prime minister, President Gatesberg, the Russian and Chinese premiers. Don’t you want to see the world making love and not war?’
- ‘Er, I don’t know what to say.’
- ‘We’ve just discussed how difficult it can be to settle the world and its differences. Brute force and ignorance might work in the short term, but there’s nothing like gentle persuasion for producing a lasting effect.’
- ‘Chief Bradley. Is this a confession? Are you saying you’re sharing a bed with more than one of the world’s leaders? Some would consider that treason!’
- ‘Blame the hippie commune I ran away to back in the 1970s. Taking over the world by making love and not war has always made sense to me.’
- ‘Don’t you mean, saving?’
- ‘I’m sorry?’
- ‘You said “taking over the world”. Don’t you mean “saving the world”?’
- ‘Did I? My apologies – slip of the tongue.’
Richard and Sarah’s Top-ten
- Poison and wine by Civil Wars – “I wish you’d hold me when I turn my back…”
- The Devil in Disguise by Elvis Presley – “You look like an angel…”
- Wish you were here by Pink Floyd – “So, so you think you can tell, Heaven from Hell…”
- The whole of the moon by The Waterboys – “I saw the crescent, you saw…”
- Shades of grey by The Monkees – “When a man should stand and fight or just go along…”
- I never cared for you by Willie Nelson – “And the sky was never blue…”
- Opposites attract by Paula Abdul – “Baby seems we never ever agree…”
- I choose you by Sarah Bareilles – “tell the world that we finally got it right…”
- You make me mad by Third Day – “You make me fall, you make me love…”
- Marry me by Jason Derulo – “Nothing else would ever be better, better the day when I say…”
Alec Birri’s Top-Ten Tips For Writing A Dystopia
Blame Brexit. Blame Trump. Blame the rise of populism in general if you must, but there is no doubt we are currently living in what historians may one day refer to as ‘interesting’ times. And, if you know your pseudo-Chinese proverbs, that’s not meant to settle your thoughts. The literary upshot of that? A resurgence of interest in dystopian classics like Orwell’s 1984, Huxley’s Brave New World and the more modern, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Attwood. Want to have a crack at ensuring historians include your name in that illustrious list? Then read on.
- Write what you know. Don’t even think about penning a dystopia unless you’ve already spent decades living in a one. What? You haven’t? You mean to say you’ve never been denied entry to a bar, stopped by the police or made to do something you didn’t want to? Take all that and dial it up to eleven. Welcome to your dystopia.
- Use technology but avoid ‘hard’ sci-fi. Best done by setting your dystopia in the not-too-distant future. That way it’s more likely to feel ‘real’ to the reader, i.e. if we’re not careful, our children might end up living in it one day.
- It’s a thriller first. And some other blah about the environment, population control, conspiracy theories, thought police, eugenics, #MeToo, etc., second. Be passionate about your favourite citizen-oppressing subject but don’t let the detail of it get in the way of the action.
- It’s about us. It might be the narrator’s job to keep the listener entertained, but how you explore the human condition will ultimately decide your literary legacy. The chapter involving the rat in Orwell’s 1984 is gripping, but the way a hidden autocracy turned its citizens into unthinking, unfeeling but above all, obedient servants was far more unsettling.
- Don’t ignore utopias. A perfect society may make for a boring read, but lambs don’t lie down with lions for long.
- Use simple prose. The novel’s going to be complicated enough. The last thing you want your audience asking is, ‘But what’s it about?’
- Sex, religion and politics. Might be barred from the dinner table (well, the topics of conversation are) but all three are a must in a dystopian thriller. Remember, you’re aiming to explore why societies do the things they do and digging deep reveals these guys to be the main culprits.
- Avoid anything gratuitous. Particularly when it comes to writing political opinions that coincide with your own. If crucial to the plot, then have someone else in the scene state the opposing view no matter how distasteful to you personally. Let the reader decide.
- Build the novel. As evolution (creationism?) seems to have built us – step by step. Why does that appear to have resulted in so much inequality?
- And finally. Aim to satisfy the audience in this way: They have enjoyed an exciting thriller which has given them a lot to think about.
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