A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia
By Zeke Teflon
First Published: 2012
Review © 2013 by Stephen Roof
Genre: Science Fiction, Utopian/Dystopian
Free Radicals is a science fiction first novel from Zeke Teflon which is the pseudonym for a musician who has previously published nonfiction works. The story takes place mostly on a prison planet where the exiled inhabitants have set up a number of different communities designed to be “utopian” by their founders. When a new convict arrives and makes a serious enemy, he ends up on the run where he stumbles into a series of these widely varied communities. Most of the communities would be considered to be extremely dystopian by the average person and provide some easy targets for political, social, and religious criticisms.
Free Radicals begins with the main character, Kel Turner, struggling to survive as a musician in a quite dystopian vision of what Earth could be like in the not too far future. The beginning of the novel starts off too slow as there is too much exposition covering Kel’s relationship history and the current political and economic conditions. However, 23 pages into the novel, Kel gets exiled to the prison planet Tau Two, where the real action begins. Kel runs into a former best friend and band mate named Chuy. When Kel makes an enemy of a very dangerous man, the two end up on the run. The rest of the novel involves the pair traveling through various societies as they attempt to make their way to Chuy’s home community.
The societies that Kel and Chuy visit include some of the most extreme examples one could imagine. They includes a neo-Nazi society, an ultra-religious monastic society where manual labor is believed to be the path to enlightenment, a society based on something like a 12-step substance abuse recovery program that ironically uses a special drug as a reward, a neo-Communist society, a mind-controlled society, and an anarchist society. With these extreme examples, the novel has easy targets for making political, religious, and social criticisms. At times, the moralizing gets a bit heavy handed but there is enough humor and action to keep the novel entertaining.
One of the best aspects of this novel is the realistic portrayal of the main characters as musicians which is not too surprising since the author is a musician himself. Kel comes across as a likeable guy with plenty of faults who has had some bad breaks but has a good heart. His friend Chuy can be counted on as a stand-up guy. He is also a Mexican American who mixes a bit of Spanish into his English. For those with no background in Spanish, the novel includes a convenient 5 page glossary of common Spanish expressions including many slang expressions that could be very useful at times. Chuy serves as Kel’s guide in an unfamiliar world and the two make a good team when they get into some serious scrapes and end up getting into the middle of war.
As a warning to sensitive readers, Kel and Chuy use plenty of colorful language, drink a lot, and have some frank talks about sex.
One thing that should not be overlooked in this novel is the quotes at the beginning of each chapter. They offer great humor and wit and are often drenched in sarcasm and irony. They skewer everything from religions, to racism, to marriage, and even to motorcycles. For example, this quote comes from The American Heretic’s Dictionary by Chaz Bufe, “CULT, n. 1) An unsuccessful religion; 2) A pejorative term employed by members of religious bodies to refer to other religious bodies.”
While the writing in Free Radicals is a bit heavy handed and unpolished, it contains entertaining encounters with a variety of highly different dystopian communities that highlight the shortcomings of each. If this piques your interest, this novel will be worth picking up and, as an added bonus, you will be treated to a number of highly entertaining and thought provoking quotes that are worth the cost of admission in and of themselves.