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The Mocking Program by Alan Dean Foster

science fiction, Warner Books  (Hardcover), 2002, 279 pages

reviewed by Deane Rink,

Deane Rink, writer, producer, and project director, is a voracious reader with very eclectic tastes. He sends us short, provocative reviews, introducing us to fascinating books that otherwise might pass unnoticed. He has worked for PBS, National Geographic, the American Museum of Natural History, Hearst Entertainment, and Carl Sagan. From his involvement in numerous projects about science, he has remarkable insight into present-day scientific endeavors and their implications, and in-depth knowledge of specialized fields (like Antarctica from his two "Live from Antarctica" PBS productions. But he also savors provides illuminating commentary on literature, fantasy, biography, and popular fiction. Links to Deane's other reviews. You can reach him at

One of the enduring appeals of good science fiction is that it allows us to glimpse the future before having lived it, kind of like trying it on for size.  Science fiction off the planet or too far in the future fails in this regard, but possesses other allures.  Near-future science fiction, like this book, is better for imagining how your grandchildren will live.
THE MOCKING PROGRAM is set in Namerica, an amalgamation of Southwest USA and Mexico that has been turned into one sprawling industrial park called the Montezuma Strip.  It is about a police inspector with Robo-Man biomechanical extensions that make him nearly invulnerable.  He is also an intuit, a highly sensitive individual who can telepathically sense when he is lied to or given an incomplete story.  But of course the bad guys have high-tech tools as well.  In the course of a routine homicide investigation, Inspector Angel Cardenas visits a house that is booby-trapped to explode and kill him.  He narrowly escapes and tracks the surviving residents, who have fled, to a nature park in Central America where all manner of simians live, including simians that have been made as intelligent as humans by genetic engineering experimentation.  The killers, who had initially murdered and gutted the stepfather who once lived in that house, are also on the track of his wife and 12-year-old step-daughter. The step-daughter is a tecant, a technological savant, and has been used by her real father, the villain of the piece, to store in her almost infinite memory all the techniques and records required for his criminal enterprises.  He wants her back, and dispatches assassins/kidnappers to the simian park to fetch her.  Inspector Cardenas must save the daughter and break through the levels of subterfuge that cloak the father's criminal schemes.
In the course of his investigation, Cardenas moves through the brave new world that free trade has wrought.  Think of Las Vegas as an industrial park, with tightly-secured workers and renegade groups of ne'er-do-wells who cannot or will not fit in, so have been relegated to the sex parlors and stimstick clubs of the Strip, or the underground tunnels that service the great technological manufacturing plants above.  Cardenas befriends the girl and slowly devises a scheme to neutralize her father.  To his surprise, he finds out that the father has already died, but has initiated an automatic program that can only be stopped by his command; with his death, the program will be as relentless as any robot, unceasing until it completes its mission or is destroyed.
One of the secondary joys of this novel is Foster's liberal use of a high tech version of Spanglish, the newly-evolved language of Namerica. VERDAD is the word used when one wants to agree with something: "It's the truth."  VERDES are ecological activists, or greens.  SANJUANA is the arcoplex comprising San Diego and Tijuana.  NONZAFADO is an adjective describing people who are out of it, not part of the "in" crowd.  SIRYORE is a male honorific that combines Sir and Senor.  FELEON is a really bad person, a combination of felon and feon, Mexican slang for an ugly sucker.  DISONY is the giant Disney-Sony multinat.  Working through a made-up language makes the early pages rather slow going, but once the reader gets the hang of it (assisted by a glossary at the end), it becomes local color for an intriguing story that pushes both the social and technological envelopes.

Reviews by Dean Rink

Dialogue on favorite books with Deane Rink before and during his latest trek to Antarctica, with a note from Bill Ransom and a digression about Frank Herbert (a.k.a Bookbabble 101) -- a very long and rapidly growing document:

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