Dennis Danvers' The Fourth World

Santee St. John is a VR reporter for "NewsReal" a news agency which specializes in shocking, tear-jerking, blood-racing stories. In a world in which most people in the wealthier nations have chosen to live cocooned inside their tiny box apartments, venturing out into the big bad world only through the virtual experience of cyberspace, it is Santee's job to be the eyes, ears, nose, tongue and nerves of the masses. Hi is NewsReal's man-on-the-street, charged with the task of really being there to record the sensations of news events for broadcast over the Web, allowing others to experience them through the safety of virtual reality.

Santee has been told that he is quite a good reporter and he has managed to hold down the job at NewsReal for a full year -- something of a record for him -- when NewsReal sends him off to Mexico to witness "hostilities" in Chiapas.

The "hostilities" turn out to be a massive and well-armed U.S. military force which surrounds a poverty-stricken farming community and razes it to the ground, murdering every man, woman and child, burning the fields and houses, and slaughtering the few scraggly cattle. This land has now been claimed by American tycoons with contracts with McDonalds and Taco Bell to fulfil; claimed through one short morning's work while Mexican soldiers at the nearby military base looked on uninterfering.

At least Santee witnessed the event too. One unarmed man, alone, he was unable to prevent the slaughter, but he had recorded it. Now all the world would see the horrors which had been committed in Chiapas. The whole world would be outraged. The whole world would cry out, demanding that the United States pull out of Mexico and those responsible for this atrocity be brought to justice.

Sickened, Santee hurries back to his hotel room to download his recordings and transmit them to NewsReal, fully expecting to see them online within the hour. When hours pass and there is no mention of the Chiapas massacre on the NewsReal site, Santee grows concerned and contacts his boss.

"Let it go, Santee," she tells him, "there's no story there. Nobody wants this one. Nobody wants to know everything."

Santee is baffled, then outraged, then terrified as he comes to understand just how deeply this conspiracy of silence runs. As Santee searches for the truth in the destitute Mexican countryside, the virtual world of cyberspace and the new frontier of outer space, Dennis Danvers weaves a passionate tale of a near future Earth in which the powerful rule not only with money and military might but through the control of information and misinformation and their dissemination.

First reading this novel as I did in the wake of September 2001 and the American media's warped reporting of the U.S. destruction of Afghanistan, Danver's portrayal of a criminally negligent media and the evils it hides seemed prophetic indeed -- the world depicted in The Fourth World is here with us today. Our VR technologies aren't yet up to par with those envisioned by Danvers, and the colonization of Mars won't occur this year, but we are already a people rendered largely ignorant by our reliance on so-called "news" agencies to report world happenings to us -- news agencies concerned more with their fiscal bottom line than with the truth. We are already a people cowed into silence by bullies with bigger guns who fear that letting the truth be known will harm their political and economic might. We are avalanching down the same slippery slope as the characters in The Fourth World and, like them, must find the path through despair and hopelessness to our own salvation.

Is there any hope for Santee St. John and the peasant farmers of Chiapas? Is there any hope for us? Dennis Danvers' vision is both heart-wrenching and inspiring and the path he leads us down towards it is filled with interesting characters, fascinating ideas, and healthy doses of intrigue and adventure. Highly recommended!