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MIND'S EYE
by Paul McAuley
Simon and Schuster, September 2005
432 pages
12.99GBP
ISBN: 0743238877


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Paul McAuley has distinguished himself in the science fiction field, where he has garnered more than a few awards. While there are elements of the fantastical in MIND'S EYE, it is sufficiently close to being classed as a mainstream thriller rather than belonging solely to the science fiction genre.

Everyone has heard that epileptics can be precipitated into a seizure by flickering lights or other related phenomena; why, then, should a pattern of lines not be able to bring about the same result? Why, too, should an ancient civilisation not have discovered the effect on the mind that such patterns (or glyphs, according to this narrative) may have and not incorporate them into their mystic lore?

Alfie Flowers is a photographer. When he was a child, he used to watch his grandfather smoke a strange powder. After his grandfather's death, Alfie tasted the secret powder then looked at some drawings of strange patterns hidden in a secret compartment. This transformed the brain of a healthy child into that of a sufferer of epilepsy.

Alfie's father, an adventurer, treated the condition in an unorthodox manner which seemed to manage seizures reasonably well, but when the older Flowers disappeared, presumed dead, in the Middle East, Alfie's grandmother took the child to doctors to be treated in a less successful but more traditional method.

When Alfie is in his 30s, his attention is caught by graffiti featuring the same kind of patterns that originally caused his epilepsy. Hoping that the perpetrator of the graffiti can help him to reverse the effects of the original exposure, Alfie enlists the aid of his friend, journalist/ book reviewer Toby Brown to track down the lad who appears to have emphatically anti-American political sympathies and is in hiding. Alfie learns that the artist goes by the tag name Morph and that he is something of a protege of Shareef, the owner of a pirate radio station.

Alfie and Toby are not the only people seeking Morph. Harriet Crowley, a woman with ties to British Intelligence but also allied to an organisation called the Nomads Club, is also out to track down Morph but her search is linked with her father and grandfather and MI5 and MI6. She is at risk from a villainous psychiatrist in search of the secrets of the glyphs (the patterns) and Morph as well.

All paths lead to Iraq and the tribe that originated the glyphs who used to live there. Harriet's grandfather as well as Alfie's were instrumental in the discovery of the tribe which seems to have died out except for the young man, Morph.

All parties, by fair means or foul, attempt to solve the mystery of the glyphs and the power they hold to alter human minds, up to and including depriving people of their humanity and turning them into 'low men' who can be manipulated by unscrupulous people into becoming murderers and/or suicides.

While the story has a very promising start and the outline is excellent, perhaps it suffers when the character of the mad psychiatrist and his unscrupulous mercenaries are introduced. The psychiatrist without his insanity would possibly have been more intimidating than this evilly-chuckling clone of the old time comic book supervillain Dr Sivana.

There are references to Harriet's previous adventures in Iraq and her former connections to the Nomad's Club which I thought must have been in an earlier novel, but I was unable to trace such a work. Thus, I felt that various items, such as the 'low men' were left insufficiently explained, despite the early introduction of those characters, until too late in the book.

There were more than a few gory descriptions in the text some of which were, perhaps gratuitous. Some of the violence, too, tended to be overdone so that it could be thought to gripe rather than grip. MIND'S EYE is a reasonably entertaining read although it could be improved.

Reviewed by Denise Pickles, October 2005

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