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WesternSFA
The Hour of Lead
by Kathleen De Grave with Earl Lee
See Sharp Press, 2012, $ 14.95, 255pp
Release Date: September 1, 2012
It’s not the same Kansas .

Not all scarce things are valuable, but things that are plentiful are rarely regarded as precious. In the not-so-distant future, the most commonplace, plentiful, and devalued resource is unwanted children.

There’s such a glut of them, and they are so damaged by neglect and environmental toxins, that no one could care for them even if they were not so numerous. They do make good test subjects, however, for experimental drugs and procedures. At the CorGo (Corporate Government) hospital’s research facility, you can buy love in a lollipop, or try out the tentacles option to see whether having extra appendages helps make your multitasking easier; having an endless supply of human guinea pigs makes better living through chemistry, gene splicing, and nanotech possible - and very, very profitable.

Weylan, a physician at CorGo, is too cowed to even stand up straight most of the time; worse, he cares too much about the kids he treats and monitors. And because when things go wrong they tend to go wrong all over, his artistic, creative, child-loving girlfriend Pamela opts out of their relationship, in part as a reaction to all the guilt he brings home. But Weylan’s grandfather had shown him some of the family’s traditional methods of ceremonial magic - Native American primarily, but with overlays of several other cultures as well. When Weylan performs a ceremony in the old way, he discovers that it opens a door into alternate timelines, alternate realities, and he starts out on a quest to change things for the better, or at least find a timeline in which things are less screwed up that they were in his starting reality. All Weylan wants to do is help out some of the kids, prevent a death that haunts him, get Pamela back, and maybe grow a spine. Unfortunately, his boss gets wind of his discovery and has plans of his own, as dollar signs shine in his eyes.

As a dystopic look down the road we’re on, The Hour of Lead has less politics than Orwell’s 1984, more climate change, more technology, and more lateral thinking. As a result, Weyland manages to be a bit more heroic than Winston Smith. ~~ Chris Paige

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