Book review: The Changed Agenda

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I am both an avid sci-fi fan (both of books and visual media), and hope to eventually publish a novel or two, so it was with some excitement that I received this book, written by a local lad. I was also particularly impressed to discover that he had knuckled down and churned this title out within a year – given that my effort has been ongoing for some years now (some years of severe self-discipline deficiency), I have the highest respect for someone who can sit down and get it done.

The Changed Agenda coverThe Changed Agenda starts off very strong – some crazy and intriguing things happen, and the scene is set most tantalizingly. The narrative then settles down to some character building, which exposes us to an impressive cast of characters, and initially none are presented necessarily as protagonist or antagonist – this sort of ambiguity is both mature and an elegant literary device. Without revealing too much, I can say the following about the general nature of the story: over the years, certain individuals across the globe start demonstrating special abilities that can almost be described as “magical” – or, more accurately, as telekinetic, telepathic, extrasensory, and other such psychic gifts. Governments prefer to keep these out of the eye of the general public, and to that end there is a secret organisation that monitors and, as far as possible, regulates these “changed” individuals. There are, however, those who have eluded this organisation, and they, too, keep a low profile, to avoid attracting the attention of the authorities. In a way, this sounds rather a lot like the TV show Heroes, and the similarities don’t end there (more about this later.)

Unfortunately, although the story starts so strong, I get the impression that either Mr Holtshauzen’s concept runs out of steam, or he gets bogged down in minutiae. Ultimately, the narrative devolves into an almost non-stop series of conversations and arguments, with someone withholding something from the other, or with someone being upset with someone else. There are grudges (often unnecessary – even though this is, in fact, rather realistic) and “emotional byplay”, but little of actual substance. In fact, it feels like the story wanders away from sci-fi, and lodges itself firmly in soap opera territory. This, of course, will appeal to some – and should be highlighted so that people can make an informed purchasing decision: if you want soap, check this out, but if you want sci-fi, maybe steer clear.

As well as interminable arguments and the like, the narrative, which starts off with an impressive command of the English language, starts becoming increasingly prone to pompous malapropisms (there is no less verbose way of saying this!) At one point, almost every paragraph includes a misuse of some word, (Mr Holtshauzen, “prodigy” and “progeny” do NOT mean the same thing!), term, or figure of speech. This speaks of too much speed with not enough checking – which is to say, this story would have benefited from more rigorous editing.

Finally, with only a few pages left, I was most curious as to what sort of climax would come in those last pages. But when I got through them, I realised that the climax had already come and gone, completely unnoticed. Also, everything remains unresolved, the story more or less just trailing off, leaving that unsatisfied feeling of “to be continued”, only worse (here’s the other similarity to Heroes.) If I were to rate this book on the strength of its opening chapters, I would give it a 4 or 5 out of 5, but if I were to rate it based on the ending, that would be a 1 or 2 – therefore, I settle for the average.

Despite my negative comments, this book does show promise, though it is unfortunate that the conclusion has so blatantly been left for a sequel – after 444 pages and nothing left, I don’t expect to be holding half a book. I do hope Mr Holtshauzen keeps writing, and hires a capable editor/proof-reader. His concept, though not particularly original in its general nature, is quite novel in its details. His character development, though excessive at times, will be satisfyingly deep when it is suitably reined in. Overall, this is a fairly impressive first attempt for a fledgling novelist, and I hope that we can look forward to more coming from him in the future.