Missing Signal by Seb Doubinsky

Review published on June 23, 2018.

“Missing Signal―a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside a government conspiracy? Agent Terrence Kovacs has worked for the New Petersburg Counter-Intel Department propagating fake UFO stories for so long that even he has a hard time separating fact from fiction. Especially when he’s approached by the beautiful woman named Vita, who claims she’s been sent from another planet to liberate Earth.”

This blurb would not normally attract my attention because sci-fi is not a genre which appeals to me. However, having read several earlier publications from Meerkat Press (all outstanding), when offered the opportunity to read an ARC of this story I leapt at the opportunity. I knew I didn’t want to miss out on what could prove to be novel which would enjoyably widen my reading experience. Missing Signal has done just that – indeed, I’m delighted to have discovered an exciting new voice in Seb Doubinsky’s unusual novella. This is not a traditional sci-fi story but is one which offers a disturbing glimpse into a dystopian city-state future which reflects, albeit in an exaggerated way, so much of all that is disturbing in our 21st century world.

The labyrinthine network of false websites Terrence Kovacs creates as an agent in the counter-intelligence department – he has fifty-seven different aliases and is a master at reinventing himself – offer him some sense of satisfaction in his work but, at the same time, it also highlights his sense of loneliness and isolation. Even his name isn’t his own, so who is he really? Which of his experiences are fact and which fiction? The arrival of Vita complicates his life even more as his paranoia about whom he can trust becomes caught up in his need to believe in someone or something. Has she been sent by his superiors to test his loyalty or is she genuinely trying to help? Will a mind-altering, genetically-designed alien drug help or hinder his search for the truth?

This story is told in very short chapters, some of which are just a paragraph, or even a sentence, long, with none being longer than three pages. When I first started to read I wondered whether this style could possibly hold my attention; would I be convinced that a sentence could constitute a whole chapter? However, I very soon did become convinced because the quality of this author’s writing is such that he makes every single word count, nothing feels superfluous to the story-telling. In fact, it is the very sparseness of the writing which seems to give it such a thought-provoking power. The dystopian nature of the story, with its reflections of the all too easily recognisable horrors we see in today’s society, make this a book which I know will stay with me for a long time. Apart from the various themes which emerge in this story, I think that the nature of the writing-style would also make for some fascinating reading group discussions.

This is the seventh book in the “City-States Cycle” but can easily be read as a stand-alone story. I now feel highly motivated to seek out the earlier ones. If you enjoy creative stories with a difference, I hope that my enthusiasm will encourage you to seek out this author’s work for yourself.

Linda Hepworth 5/4

Missing Signal by Seb Doubinsky
Meerkat Press 9781946154118 pbk Aug 2018

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