Persistence of Vision by Liesel Hill
Published: January 29, 2013, Tate Publishing
Series: Interchron, #1
Genre: Adult Dystopian, Science Fiction
Source: ebook for review from author
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"Whether collectivism works or not, there will always be one or a few people at the very top making the decisions, holding the power, controlling everything below them. The question is not which is better, collectivism or individualism. The question is, are you willing to submit completely to another human being and let them live your life for you?"
I was pleasantly surprised by how much I ended up enjoying Hill's debut. The cover does not help out the book, nor does the synopsis accurately convey what Persistence of Vision is really about, in my opinion. What I found in Persistence of Vision was a well-written, quite readable, and thought-provoking novel that defies easy classification, or even easy explanation.
Ever since Maggie and her brother were drugged and found in a hotel room with half a day of their lives unaccounted for, she's felt a void in her life. She remembers being in Las Vegas, finding a man who seemed to stand against the movement of the crowd on a busy street, and sitting down at a bar with her brother. Then she and her brother were found in a hotel, each with no memories, strange marks on their bodies, and, for Maggie, flashes of inexplicable memories.
A year later, Maggie is at home minding her own business when strange men with spiderweb face tattoos try to kill her. She is saved by the very same man she saw standing alone on that crowded street in Las Vegas. He asks her to trust him, to go with him to escape more of the mysterious spiderweb men, and Maggie agrees. Soon they find themselves transported into a future where massive collectives have taken hold over society, forcing people to join and lose their freedom and sense of individuality. The man, Marcus, who saved Maggie and had her transported to this future is part of an underground resistance effort and lives with like-minded individuals in Interchron, a underground cave society. Interchron is more than just a safe haven, but a place where leading resistance members plan on how to save individuality and humanity itself. Maggie learns not only that last year she was an active member of the resistance, but also that she's an essential part of a prophecy for how to save the future of the world.
As I've mentioned in previous reviews, I absolutely love "chosen one" stories, especially when the chosen one has the role so unexpectedly thrust upon his/her shoulders. Maggie resides in the current day but, because her brain structure fits that of one of the key players in the prophecy, others named in the prophecy transport her through time in the hope that she'll help lead humanity to salvation. Persistence of Vision certainly fits my criteria and, even better, it's a well-done prophecy. It is by no means easily understood, but, as the story continues, more and more aspects become apparent to Maggie and the readers.
Perhaps what Persistence of Vision does best is examine so many philosophical and moral questions. From Maggie's forgotten year at Interchron to ideas of individualism and the power of the collectives, Hill's book made me contemplate the driving forces behind humanity's existence. Is is enough to live but have no semblance of self or personal desires? To have no true purpose in life? To forsake everything for community? The collectives have tried to argue that life is better and simpler within them, but the truth of the matter is that they continue to join with other collectives, continuing to limit the choices of people within them. And collectives have become militant, rounding up individuals and forcing them into the collective mind and killing those that resist. Persistence of Vision makes a very strong case for how a fulfilling life should be one not dictated by others.
It's clear that Hill has thoroughly researched many of the scientific and philosophical concepts present in this book. In particular, in this futuristic world people have become quite adept at recognizing others from their brain chemistry and using mental manipulation for tasks in the physical world. It is a jarring juxtaposition between the scientific advances of this world and the societal regression due to the prevalence of collectives. At its core, the novel is about the importance of individuality, and Hill uses her characters, their extraordinary powers, and their relationships to give examples of what would be lost if the collectives win.
Although it makes complete sense within the context of the novel, Persistence of Vision does include a lot of telling rather than showing. Much of what Maggie (and, through her, the reader) learns about the future world of Interchron and the collectives is revealed through conversations with team members. Because of Maggie's memory loss, she has to relearn everything about this world and, while the worldbuilding itself seemed somewhat solid, Hill relies far too often on dialogue being the only means of information dissemination (and perhaps even reveals too much information for the first book in a series). It would have been more powerful if Maggie could have experienced more about this new world first-hand — although it's possible that this will in fact be the case for future novels within this series.
Another minor issue was the use of narrative voice. For the majority of the novel, Hill employs a pretty formal third-person past tense limited narration focused on Maggie. Instead of having one consistent narrative voice throughout, however, there are select chapters and sections told from other characters. They mostly inform the readers of events going on where Maggie herself is not present, physically or consciously. One minor narrator is a man who has just forcibly left a collective and its influence, and that was certainly interesting to read. I do believe, however, that none of those extra narrators are necessary. Persistence of Vision is Maggie's story, focused on her learning about her role in a prophecy that could save the future of individualism. While I could certainly identify Hill's reasons for these sections, those plot points could have been added to the story in other ways that would not compromise the narration.
Overall, I was impressed with how thought-provoking the novel is. More than the characters, plot, or narration, Persistence of Vision is a novel that asks its readers to focus on bigger questions of morality and freedom of individuality. It asks the questions worth asking and, over the course of the novel, demands that Maggie and readers begin to answer them.