Alan Dean Foster,
The Mocking Program
(Warner, 2002)

The Mocking Program is set on Earth in the futuristic Mexamerican megatropolis of Montezuma Strip. There are the anticipated huge advancements in technology and replacement body parts are the norm. They need to be -- street gangs, crime, violence and drug taking have escalated. Alan Dean Foster uses Spanglish and street-slang (a glossary is at the end of the book) to underline the different culture of his future Earth.

Inspector Angel Cardenas is a tough federal cop with startling blue replacement eyes, who is trained in telepathic intuition. His half-Japanese/half-Peruvian sidekick, Sergeant Fredoso Hyaki, resembles a gigantic Buddha with an endearing smile. The pair attend a grisly but not uncommon murder scene, where the victim has been robbed and his corpse cleaned out of all usable body parts. Routine DNA tests identify George Anderson's body; however, Angel's intuition prompts deeper forensics, which prove that this one body has two DNA identities! George's details list a wife, Surtsey, and a 12-year-old daughter, Katla. But when Angel and Fredoso turn up at the address, instead of a grieving family, they find a sophisticated protective bomb that demolishes the house and severely injures Fredoso. Angel discovers that the mother and daughter have fled from Cleater Mockerkin, a crime lord with widespread illegal interests.

Foster's inventive mind truly sets this book into the far future, using Angel's search for information to introduce us to many of the interesting inhabitants and subcultures of the seedy underside of the city. We meet a Morphmasque, an ever-shifting veil showing multiple forms and identities, and the intriguing and attribute-laden "Coy Joy." We learn about travel by induction tube, Spinners and Para-sites. We discover the deadlier weapons available, and their effects. Yet even in this dark society there is proof of compassion -- two abandoned street dogs survive thanks to prosthetic repairs -- artificial forelegs and aural reception discs! The Spanglish and slang is sometimes cumbersome, constantly referring to the glossary breaks the flow of the story, but the language enhances the overall scene-setting.

Angel's search for Surtsey and Katla leads beyond his official jurisdiction, so he and Hyaki take leave and visit La Amistad, Costa Rica, where admittance to "La Ciudad Simiano" requires authorization. An attack by local banditry leaves them on foot in unknown territory and reliant on the assistance of the genetically altered monkeys and baboons who take them to the city to meet Sorong, the silver-backed gorilla in charge. The contrast between the behaviour of humans and that of the primates is very marked, the difference accentuated by the lack of Spangspeak. However, all is not what it seems in this paradise and there is very definitely a serpent in this garden of Eden. Sorong has given refuge to the missing pair and gradually we find out why Katya is so valuable to Mockerkin, yet as some mysteries unravel, others enmesh the characters, unpredictably manipulating the plot and leading to a pyramid of deductions, discoveries and an eventual satisfactory finale.

This thriller is very different from Foster's Spellsinger novels. However, it is nicely paced and exciting thriller with a maze of twists and turns, and the more one reads, the more it grips you, until it is impossible to put the book down.

- Rambles
written by Jenny Ivor
published 8 February 2003

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