Sunday, September 14, 2003

Review: "The Pixel Eye" by Paul Levinson

The World Trade Center attacks make their way into science fiction with Paul Levinson's "The Pixel Eye" ($24.95, Tor).

The book is part of a series featuring Levinson's near-future NYPD forensic scientist Phil D'Amato. He serves in a world that is running scared from terrorism, and almost anything is suspicious. (Sound familiar, yet?)

D'Amato is called upon to investigate the disappearance and reappearance of squirrels around the city. He thinks it's a joke, until he uncovers secret research using hard-wired rats as spies. That puts questions in D'Amato's mind. Could the missing squirrels be part of a terrorist plot?

That question sends D'Amato spinning in a web of intrigue as he gets tangled up in a top secret Homeland Security project which may or may not give him his answer.

While science fiction usually deals with far-flung worlds, times and ideas, Levinson decides to take the genre in another direction. Though I haven't read the previous volumes in the Phil D'Amato series, "The Pixel Eye" is a very timely tale that reflects a lot of the things going on in today's world and a lot of the same issues that Americans are grappling with every single day.

As D'Amato is pulled further into the plots of the government, he's forced to confront the issue of freedom vs. security. It's one that's on a lot of people's minds these days.

The problem for Levinson may be that the subject matter outweighs the story. While in most detective-style mystery novels, the main attraction is the lead character, I don't really remember much about D'Amato. I do remember the thoughts the storyline sparked in my mind. That alone, makes it a book worth reading.

"The Pixel Eye," much like Orwell's "1984" and Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451," presents a chilling vision of the future that hits way too close to home for comfort. Levinson's book is not quite as heavy as those two venerable volumes, but it touches on some of the same themes. It's not a book for escape from the problems of today's world, but rather one that will make you face them.

Though there are those readers who dismiss science fiction as escapist and less important than other literary works, books like "The Pixel Eye" defy that perception of the genre. Levinson's latest is a thought-provoking book that should be on anyone's reading list.

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