Published on October 11th, 2013 | by Timothy Thomas McNeely


The Lead Cloak: No Privacy, Big Problem

When you read this article, you may have just redirected from Facebook, followed a link from Twitter, or found it on your own somehow, and you are now exploring it on a computer or mobile device, using your eyes to read and hands to navigate.

If you lived in the future presented by Tacoma author Erik Hanberg in The Lead Cloak – book one of The Lattice Trilogy and available October 15 – you might read this on the “wrap” on your arm, or you might just lift a ring to your temple, enter a “jump” in the Lattice, and read through the eyes of the friend who sent you the article, experience the emotions of the editors who worked on it, or go back in time and experience being me as I write these very words and consider the next.

Any experience, present or past, is possible in the Lattice, up to and including the birth of our solar system. Any arrangement of atoms can be accessed through a Lattice reader, providing a near-boundless sea of experience to everyone with such a reader.

Although Hanberg loves author Frank Herbert (supporting a plan to name a park in Tacoma after Herbert and helping to host a birthday party for Herbert at Hilltop Kitchen), the construction of The Lead Cloak bears far more obvious connection to the work of two other science fiction titans, Gene Roddenberry and Philip K. Dick.

“The Minority Report,” by Dick, and some elements of George Orwell’s 1984, provide Hanberg’s addictive plot with fine parentage, while the humanity of Roddenberry’s work, “Star Trek” and elsewhere, provide the social commentary and heart evinced by Hanberg.

It is absolutely high praise to name-drop such luminaries in an article about a self-published novel from Tacoma, and it is justified.

The remarkable future Hanberg creates is set 68 years from now. Access to Lattice readers mirrors Internet access worldwide today – ubiquity for the “haves” and limited to no access for the “have nots.” For everyone in Hanberg’s post-Internet world, though, the effect is the same: in 2081, there is no privacy.

Or to put it another way, there is total transparency – while Big Brother may exist, everyone with a Lattice reader can not only identify their observers, but access their every thought and action. The agelong question regarding surveillance has been answered: Who watches the watcher? You do, if you feel like it and have the time.

Hanberg has taken every bit of transparency-advocacy to its logical ends: a pure elimination of privacy. Wikileaks would have no purpose in this future, and an Edward Snowden couldn’t generate much surprise or news.

Not surprisingly, there are some who want to destroy the Lattice, which they see as a wholly corrupting influence on society. Enter Colonel Byron Shaw, chief of security at the Nevada Lattice Installation, the primary means by which the Lattice exists (the secondary is located in the old CERN facility under Geneva, Switzerland).

Unlike the Internet, the Lattice is reliant on these facilities managing an enormous, 100 meter tall structure of rhodium atoms arranged in a lattice pattern and capable of rendering intelligible any atoms that pass through the structure and all other atoms with which they are entangled (which is all of them). Anyhow, because the Lattice is actually housed in merely two locations, it’s theoretically vulnerable to dedicated terrorist attack.

The Lead Cloak begins right where you might presume it to: on the toilet. Col. Shaw is taking a break, making a jump back to the Battle of Little Round Top, observing what another colonel experienced that day in 1863. If you are currently reading this in your own bathroom, you may be forgiven.

Shaw is interrupted from his revery by an attack on the Lattice Installation. No sooner is the assault thwarted than it precipitates a worldwide hunt, led by Shaw, for the plan’s masterminds. A mystery unfolds that brings into question Shaw’s loyalty to the Lattice, his childhood, and the value of his life. Inevitably, the following action sets the stage for the remaining two installations of The Lattice Trilogy.

The Lead Cloak

Cover art by Chandler O’Leary.

Myriad sci-fi tropes populate The Lead Cloak, appropriated, alive and well. There are people addicted to the technology of the day, most conspicuously the “OJs” (orgasm junkies), who jump from tagged experience to tagged experience, often selling possessions and body parts to pay for one more high. There are new modes of travel, ready access to space, and call backs to times now long past – popular culture from a few decades ago is comfortably referenced from this medium-distance future.

But Hanberg puts his own spin on everything. And the idea of the Lattice, its particular advantages and dangers, not to mention the other technology present in the book, is unique, well-conceived, and worthy of your attention.

If you were in the Lattice now, jumped into the precise moment at which I am choosing these next words, you’d see me trying to find a way to speak to the book’s shortcoming.

Most of all – and it is an imperfection, not a mere choice among choices – this book could have benefitted from multiple-perspective narration. For a book so obsessed with the consequences of getting inside other people’s heads, we barely see the interiors of other characters.

The depth this technique could have added to the book is a loss. Such perspective-switching could have  sharpened details and called out touchstone moments for key characters – especially the lovely domestic scenes, the same interludes that so many characters in the book note as distinct and affecting about Byron Shaw. His wife, Ellie, deserves more page time, at the least.

I can only hope that book two and three of The Lattice Trilogy will let us get to know both her and others a bit more.

Yet this fault is far outweighed by writing both crisp and efficient, social commentary that is, in the end, even-handed, and a story that is truly fun and exciting. I look forward to seeing what comes next in this brave new world.

The Lead Cloak, delivers an engaging story, an exciting plot, and an author to watch, not just for readers in Tacoma, but wherever books are sold. If you own a Lattice reader, you can find tags of me reading the book at home, in Olympia, and on a plane to Pasco. You can experience my surprise at encountering this new voice in sci-fi so close to home, and my enjoyment of his work.

Join author Erik Hanberg for a book release party and signing on October 15, 7 p.m. at King’s Books, 218 St Helens Ave., Tacoma, WA 98402. Free.

The Lead Cloak by Erik Hanberg. 421 pp. Side x Side Publishing. $12.99 paperback and $5.99 ebook.

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About the Author

Most days, Timothy Thomas McNeely leads federal and state education program reviews for the State of Washington. Born in Tacoma, he studied poetry and philosophy in Canada and the United Kingdom. He is editor of the Community and Literature sections for Post Defiance, and writes poetry and prose whenever he can. He and his family live in Tacoma. Find him on Twitter as @ttmcneely.

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