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Paolo Bacigalupi
The Doubt Factory
Little, Brown / Hachette Book Groups
US Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 978-0-316-22075-0
Publication Date: 10-14-2014
496 Pages; $18
Date Reviewed: 10-31-2014
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2014

Index:  General Fiction  Science Fiction

It's one thing to find some interesting, even compelling ideas; they're hard to avoid in a world of interesting times. But to make those ideas interesting and to bring them to life in a reader's mind, story matters; thrills matter. Engage your reader with great characters, find a way to test their mettle and put them through a wringer that is in thrall to those great ideas, and they'll not be easily forgotten.

Paolo Bacigalupi offers readers a perfect example in his superb thriller, 'The Doubt Factory.' Alix Banks is not a normal teenager, exactly. She's pretty damn far to the right-hand side of that income gap. She attends a costly private school and lives in a wealthy neighborhood with her noisy but engaging family. Her father, however ...

Alix meets a man who tells her that her father is not the nice man he has always seemed to be. She learns that his job may have the unfortunate side effect of death, by virtue of his ability to sow doubt about scientific research. From the first page on, 'The Doubt Factory' is a hot ride in a fast car, hard to put down for the intense tension and hard to forget for the compelling ideas.

Bacigalupi is a smart writer who knows that he has to capture us, and a brief prologue does just that and then takes us into Alix's life. Here, Bacigalupi shows his expertise writing about teens and not just for them. Readers hesitant to pick up a book that might, but shouldn't, be found in the YA section, can cast aside their internal doubt factory now. Even though the protagonist here is a teenaged girl, the approach is thoroughly adult, smart and sensible without the sensationalism.

Bacigalupi's entire cast of characters is compelling, because he brings them whole to the readers, so that antagonists may be likable while protagonists have flaws. This also lends to the tension, since everything and everyone is balanced on a very real knife-edge. Once Alix gets involved, the plot takes on a sort of con-game feel, with lots of intricate and engaging twists, all of them intrinsically externalizing Bacigalupi's perceptions of how we shape our own facts and realities, and what happens when external reality bumps up against the advertised alternative.

Expect to find an ingeniously conceived protest group and equally ingenious, but also insidious corporate shenanigans. Bacigalupi, who has written a lot of science fiction, brings much of the toolkit used in the genre to lend his real world, present day story, the sense of wonder one expects to find in the future. The problem is that we are currently living in that future, and we have only a dim understanding of how it is being steered and where we are going.

If you feel like you're part of that legendary orchestra on the deck of the Titanic, 'The Doubt Factory' is only going to exacerbate your anxiety. But Bacigalupi also uses a pulse-pounding, page turning ripping yarn to make a few tips of the iceberg clearer, to let us know that there's a lot going on underneath the surface that needs attention. Chances are that after reading this book, and buying his others, you're more likely to pay attention to that science piece about endocrine disruptors. Inconvenient truths will seem more present.

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