8 Things About Operation Outfect
The worlds richest and most powerful people have decended on a remote compound in South Africa to meet with Max Londt, an eccentric billionare who has developed a way for humankind to colonize the stars.
Neil Grenham, a disgraced PR expert with a reputation for helping the worst people in in the world to terrible things, is recurited to help convince this elite group to sign up as passengers. He also needs a way to convince the extra-terrestrial beings on the other side to take them. In the process, he delves into his own past with the South African military during apartheid and realizes that something far darker might be involved in this plan for the rich to escape Earth.
1. The World As It Could Be:
A world in crisis, humanity choking to death on its own shit and a billionaire class with more money than brains looking to get out and pull the ladder up behind them. Yep it pretty much seems like our world.
2. I Love It When A Plan Comes Together:
This story does have a couple of brilliant elements that move the plot into the sci-fi relm. Most obviously the method by which Max is promising the richest people in the world a trip to the nearest stars at light speed with no risk.
How you might ask? Well you'll just have to read the book!
3. Just Kidding. Here's How:
My rule of thumb is that if it happens before the 50% point in the book, it's not real spoiler. But I'm also sensitive to the fact that this might be the kind of thing people want to discover for themselves. If that is you, stop reading this and go get the book. It's pretty good, I'd recommend it. Go get it. From here out fucking spoiler.
Here's what happens. Max transcribes DNA into a series of numbers, takes that and breaks it down into a relatively simple equation and uses lasers to beam that into space along with instructions potential aliens could use that information to make human clones.
4. But Isn't That Stupid?:
On the surface it's a bit of a cop-out. Or, at least, if I were one of the rich people in Max's presentation, I'd feel cheated. After all, nobody is really traveling anywhere. The people who sign up never actually leave Earth and any potential beings that arise from this effort do not share the experience with the donor of said DNA anymore than any other parent-child relationship.
So on one hand it feels a little unsatisfactory.
But when you think about it...
5. No, it's actually bloody brilliant:
I mean come on, what billionaire with an over-inflated sense of self-worth (which is to say all of them) wouldn't get positively giddy at the prospect of sending their DNA to the stars like so much genetic graffiti. Especially at a price that is essentially pocket change to them but enough to keep 99.9% of humanity out.
Basically they are paying to fuck the entire Universe. Literally. With like genes being swapped and all of that. Yeah you could get buy-in from the billionaire class from this. All day long.
6. But why would the aliens want a bunch of dumbass humans running around?
That's the big question of the book and the mystery that our intrepid hero sets out to solve. And the method he uses is clever. Very clever. And it's just stupid enough to work. But somehow the execution feels lacking. For a start it per-presumes that extra-terrestrial life would have wants and motivations similar to humans. And second solving this mystery becomes secondary to a sub plot of the book to the point that the solution feels tacked on at the end.
7. Lost In South Africa:
The novel takes place in a place I know relatively little about but the story really helps bring this place and culture alive. Not only that but there is a sense of lived history in these pages as the author has to come to grips with being a part of an oppressive and racist system.
And as cool as that is, it starts to get in the way toward the end. To the point where I felt like I was reading a different novel than the one I started. And I can certainly imagine the parallels between a project to send the rich into space and a brutal class system like apartheid, but the story doesn't really bring them together in any satisfying way. The reader is just left to ponder what might be.
8. The Veridict ⭐⭐⭐⭐
The book started off strong. Interesting characters, a fun concept, big questions, all the stuff I love about sci fi. Early on I was hooked. But at some point, somewhere around the 65% mark, the story loses its way. I seem to remember some cartoon where a big powerful locomotive leaves the station and, when it arrives at it's destination, it's basically scrap metal held together with bailing wire and duct tape. Or maybe that's just a half-remembered story I cooked up in my own head. Anyhoo the book feels a bit like that train. Starts strong and ends... okay?
I liked the book but feel there were some big questions and some really good social commentary but that also gets lost at some point. Still worth picking up as others might see what I might be totally missing.