Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A Dark Teen Vision of 2045: A Review of Theodore A. Webb’s The STARLING Connection

 (self-published, 2012; available on in for several devices)
Take a moment to imagine American society’s reliance on social networking, Genetically Modified food, and pharmaceutical over-prescription continuing on its current upward arc.
What will a virtual-reality world of synthetic foods, drinks, mood-enhancers, genetic manipulation, and digital economic opportunity-building run by the biomedical, religious, media, political, military, and educational establishments look like?
If you are thinking bleak and slave-like, then there is much to appeal to you in The STARLING Connection, author Theodore Webb’s four-part vision of life in 30 years.
Part Phillip K. Dick and part John Hughes’ prototypical high school meets Tim Burton’ Edward Scissorhands, The STARLING Connection is a sobering and often times violent and frightening look at what our world might become if things continue on their current trajectory.
Taking the premise that the more things change the more they remain the same, much in Webb’s 2045 is familiar. Societal structures are still easily recognizable, and control is implemented from them all—education through an under-individualization of the students and strategically placed scanners that make recommendations on how many and what meds one should be taking for “optimal” performance; the military through constant patroling by overhead Drones and the mandatory insertion of chips in everyone’s bodies called the Radio Frequency Identification System; religion through TEMPLE—a massively networked mega-church that brainwashes its masses with a disturbing vision of God and “his” message and expectations for humanity (the scenes at TEMPLE invoke Sally’s visit to see the messiah in the Who’s Tommy); and the media through its carefully filtered, packaged, and presented “Prop News.” Underneath it all is a “bread and circuses” mentality that harkens to the pre-collapse of the Roman Empire.
Those who don’t comply with life within the SUPERNET are sent to Reconditioning Centers.
Webb writes in a fast-paced, passionate style that intermixes narrative, blog entries, manifestos, and poetry, pulling together point and counter-point, attack and response, and an abundance of philosophy and ideology through the eyes of teenagers and adults. It is an engaging mix that keeps The STARLING Connection from becoming didactic, even as Webb tackles the big, abstract notions of God, Freedom, Individuality, and so on.
He does an impressive job of finding the authentic voice of his teen characters and for this reason alone the book should appeal to this age group, although the reasons for teens to read this series are far more numerous than that.
The story centers around Simon Laramie (his first name evoking the Biblical magician and his last name the tragic murder in 1998 of gay student Matthew Shepard), a high school freshman who has lost his family in a car accident. As he tries to navigate life with his over-medicated grandmother he faces punishment at the hands of the high school’s athletic heroes (who play the eponymous “number one sport”) as he attempts to assert his individualism.
Having spent the past 10 years doing interactive bullying education workshops with over 25,000 school-aged kids, I see early evidence of the link between the constant exposure to the digital world and the manifestations of and attitudes toward violence in this book series. It is not mere fiction Webb is penning any more than the great science fiction writers of the last 130 years were. His Alternate Reality is based on our current one.
Simon’s actions draw the attention of Jaya Ceyes, a rebellious student with a vision to liberate her fellow students from the technological–pharmaceutical noose around their necks. She chooses to do so by creating a SUPERNET portal named STARLING (Spirit,  Truth,  Art,  Rights, Life, Independence, News-Knowledge and Growth)—a place for free expression and the expansion of ideas through the Arts. Yet, like in other dark visions of total government control such as the Rush album “2112” or the film Equilibrium, the Arts have been crushed and suppressed by those in control. Jaya is an archetypical warrior-goddess and therefore, in the eyes of the Establishment, she is the Tempter, Corruptor, and Seductress who must be removed at all costs.
STARLING quickly gets attention from both sides of the freedom line. The subsequent interplay of student–student and student–adult confrontations, alliances, and betrayals drive the last three parts of the series.
I highly recommend this book to teenagers and to anyone who is interested in better understanding where our digitized, medicated society may be heading.
If readers want  to  learn  more  about  “The  STARLING  Series”  and  other  works  by  Theodore Webb they should visit: All  four  parts  in  “The  STARLING  Connection:  Volume  One”  of  “The  STARLING  Series”  are  available in e-book format on for a variety of devices.

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