Book Review: Truth isn’t exactly ‘Objectively So’ in ‘Golden State’

We all have all heard the phrase. Fake news. The media is fake news. Social media is fake news. Some viral Twitter thread is fake news. In our digital age where the news cycle moves faster than facts, it’s become increasingly difficult to know what truly happened, and whether our believes about an event are factual and objective or merely selective and subjective. There are even some who would dare state that there is no objective reality, merely the experiences of people.

And it was into this world and climate that Ben H. Winters released Golden State, a novel that walks the blurring line between utopia and dystopia. Part crime procedural, part 1984, and utterly disturbing, this novel challenges ideas about truth, objectivity, and the forces in our own world that can make truth not the monolith we wish, but the messy, uncertain abstract it has become — or perhaps always has been.

The layering of routes, overpasses, ramps, and text upon this cover can be as unsettling as the novel within.

In an increasingly disturbing fashion, the world of Golden State is a character onto itself. It is a state where the objective truth is held above all else and life has been structure to uphold that principle. Culture and government is shaped to protect the ‘Objective So’, the basis of reality that keeps the Golden State stable. It sounds like a fine idea for a theoretical society, but then as the workings of this world are peeled back, there are clear examples of laws no decent person would defend: the immediate exiling of those with mental illnesses, the requirement for receipts following any and all encounters with another person, and the banning of fiction in its entirety. And to help fully flesh a world that acts as a character, Ben H. Winters places the reader in the head of a person deep into this world.

Like several dystopian novels, Golden State relies upon a protagonist who is a member of the state operations that ensures its continuation. The introduction of Laszlo Ratesic establishes his role in the mechanism of the State — seeking out those who lie and exposing them for their crimes. It’s a logical need for the world, but is clearly one that creates distress. The way his role is used in the first chapter echoes through the novel, both in the narrative and in the manner Laszlo approaches problems.

The narrative follows a rather standard crime procedural structure through the first part — mysterious death first written off as an accident, investigating the dead subject after a possible witness mentions something strange, and seeking out connections between the dead and other people when they emerge. It’s when the story reaches the second part (technically two thirds into the book) that the world shifts, and the narrative with it.

Golden State takes the prominent issues of recent years and uses them to craft a world that is utopian and dystopian at once, and peels back the layers to reveal the dirty truth. A truth you will need to read the novel to find out.

Golden State by Ben H. Winters was published on January 22, 2019 by Mulholland Books.

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