[book review of 'Publicani' by Zak Maymin]
"...in this world nothing is certain but death and taxes" –Benjamin Franklin'Publicani' is an action thriller about a Jewish family fighting against a government agency. It asks questions like, "How far would the government go to invade individual privacy in pursuit of its own interests?"
Premise of the book is that sometime in near future the government invents a procedure that allows to take part of one's intellect and share it with other people. Intellect redistribution, much like income redistribution, would used to make people in key positions smarter, benefiting society as a whole. Is this an ethical thing to do?
The story is told very visually, as if it were a movie. (In fact, its futuristic and supernatural elements reminded me of the 'Minority Report'.) It is entertaining and full of unexpected twists. I like the well developed characters and the conflict surrounding this new technology... So, yes, the book is interesting.
Incidentally, it is curious to know that Zak Maymin is not a fiction writer. (Well, I guess he is now!) He is a hedge fund manager with an advanced degree in mathematics – a Russian immigrant who believes in freedom. So, what he did was combine his knowledge of economics with his libertarian principles and wrote a book (or should we say, a movie script?) in the most infectious and thought-provoking way, to get his message across.
The opening chapter is rather intriguing: no narrative. My first impression was that it had a flavor of corporate espionage novels. For someone whose first language isn't English he writes very well. I like his economy of words: if he were a painter, he would know how to turn the brush to get a desired effect with just a few strokes.
In the 'Prologue', from letters exchanged between government agencies, we get to learn the meaning of the word 'Publicani'. Basically, in the ancient times there were tax farmers (Publicani) who used to collect taxes from the provincials; they were despised by the common folk. In the next chapter, 'Josh gets an assignment', we meet the main hero, Josh, a young government agent, and one of the villains, Moschetti, his boss.
There is a funny paragraph about Josh that I enjoyed very much:
"This was not as easy as it sounded because he tended to think independently. The principle had worked well for him in all the concentration-camps-like institutions that he had attended: school, colleges, and now the ICA. In all of these places, people of average abilities did what they hated under the supervision of corrupt losers. The rules protected the losers, who ferociously protected the rules. The system was especially hard on those with higher intellects, who would question the reasons behind the rules."
What a brilliant observation! Reminds me of every school I went to. :)
In this and subsequent chapters we learn more about the Intellect Collection Agency (a.k.a. Publicani) that Josh is working for and the infamous "Gerbatz Procedure" they use to transfer some of the brain power from people with high IQ to various politicians and generals that need to be smarter in order to run the country better. The procedure causes excruciating pain and actually makes people dumber for a few months. So, naturally, there are many cases on "non-compliance" that are handled by the agency with unbelievable cruelty.
Throughout the book, the author uses characters to express his opinion directly.
For example, Mr. Olafson, a scientist who resisted the procedure, basically choosing between death and taxes, says: