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Book review: The density and finesse of David Ramirez's ‘The Forever Watch’

Other reviews elsewhere have said it before: science fiction thriller “The Forever Watch” is Filipino scientist-turned-science-fiction-author David Ramirez's dazzling debut.  And while it is dense and certainly dizzying in parts, it is definitely a debut to be proud of.

“The Forever Watch” is set on a huge space ship called the Noah, traveling to colonize the planet Canaan, humanity's last hope for survival after Earth is mysteriously destroyed.

The novel opens with protagonist and point of view character Hana Dempsey waking up from her Breeding Duty and the nine months of induced sleep this entails. She misses the son she will never know. Partly to distract herself from this and partly out of love, she joins her friend and some-time savior, detective Leon Barrens, in hunting down what could be a serial killer lurking in the deeps of the ships.

But as one mystery after another reveals itself to them and begins unraveling, they realize almost too late that they are getting more than what they bargained for.

Ramirez knows his stuff; his worldbuilding skills are just as solid as the paragraphs, every detail of life on such a ship meticulously planned. I mean, the fact that everyone come of age is hardwired with a neural Implant to be constantly connected to the Nth Web (a highly sophisticated descendant of the Internet) and to maximize their talents—even grant them an array of superhuman or telekinetic powers for more efficient workings of the ship's functions?

But to be honest, I thought I was getting more than I bargained for in the first couple of pages. There are often solid paragraphs full of engineering, programming, and neuroscientific jargon, which sometimes interrupt the flow of the action just when I am feeling for the characters.

That was another problem for me. Hana is a highly logical character, well-versed in all of that jargon due to her administrative position at City Planning, which makes her something of an engineer.

It isn't just her vast store of knowledge (often laid on thickly for the reader) that makes her difficult to empathize with at first; it's also the fact that having a neural Implant means she has a perfect memory for everything, and into the store of which she dips into at random times.

It can be rather jarring, which is a shame because I wanted to see more of the love story between her and Leon, and the two major traumas of her life that don't really play as great a part in the story as they should: her time in Breeding Duty, and her rape at the hands of someone she thought she loved some years before the story starts.

When I think about it, this is also the problem with many of the characters, both major and minor.

I wanted to know more about Hana's assistant Hennessy, her best friend Lyn, and even Bullet, a talented kid who can see the past and who Leon and Hana pick up later. But they, as well as other minor but plot-central characters that come and go, are introduced suddenly—and some of them die without your ever even getting to know them a little bit.

I take issue with the pacing, too. It is wildly uneven: the first half sort of starts and stops and then meanders—then suddenly, it zooms forward in the second half and before I know it, it's already 3 a.m. and I still have to go to work later on, but no, I want to keep reading because the ending I am already guessing at is looming close and I want to know how Hana and Leon are going to deal with their pain...

Which leads me to the ending. I could use up a whole thesaurus trying to outmatch the word “mind-blowing” and none of them would be at all capable of describing what that ending on and how I feel about it.

Every single element dropped throughout the novel—Breeding Duty, the deaths, the neural Implants and their added powers, the growing computer program Hana built, the structure of society on the ship, the entire history of the Earth and the Noah both hidden and known—there are no loose ends. Everything plays out and ties up.

With the finesse of all that plotting, there are suddenly some things I don't mind at all.

In the end, “The Forever Watch” is, for me, about individuals versus society: how willing would you be to live inside a pretty, safe lie?

And how much of yourself are you willing to give up for the truth—even if it's a truth that could destabilize the entire ship and threaten humanity's survival?

Will you give into fate or make your own path? And when you make your choice, will you continue on with no regrets?

On that note, it's exciting to see what else David Ramirez will come up with in the future. — JDS, GMA News

“The Forever Watch” is available at all local bookstores and on Amazon.