Series Overview: The Administration, Manna Francis
Set in a distant future, The Administration puts a refreshing twist on the usual sci-fi dystopia totalitarian government schtick. Instead of the focus being on the resisters trying to change the system, actively opposing it, or being persecuted by it, Francis goes at it from another angle: what’s it like to work within it?
The blurb from the first in the series, Mind Fuck, offers us this:
There are no bad guys or good guys.
There are only better guys and worse guys.
One of the worse guys is Val Toreth. In a world in which torture is a legitimate part of the investigative process, he works for the Investigation and Interrogation Division, where his colleagues can be more dangerous than the criminals he investigates.
One of the better guys is Keir Warrick. His small corporation, SimTech, is developing a “sim” system that places users in a fully immersive virtual reality. A minnow in a murky and dangerous pond, he is only beginning to discover how many compromises may be required for success.
Their home is the dark future dystopia of New London. A totalitarian bureaucracy controls the European Administration, sharing political power with the corporations. The government uses violence and the many divisions of the feared Department of Internal Security to maintain control and crush resistance. The corporations fight among themselves, using lethal force under the euphemism of “corporate sabotage,” uniting only to resist attempts by the Administration to extend its influence over them. Toreth and Warrick are more natural enemies than allies. But mutual attraction and the fight for survival can create unlikely bonds.
Initially I was thinking I’d put my own razzle on describing the series, but this is a nice and succinct starting point. Of course, I’m going to be the antagonistic little fucker who sticks her head up and goes, “Toreth really isn’t that bad, people,” and want to start rambling about the universe itself, but like the canon’s virtual reality simulator, this actually has to be experienced for you to get the full impact.
I discovered the series randomly. I’d signed up for some sort of library thing on FaceBook, not long after getting my account there. At that moment, I was full of love for Erastes’ Standish, and when I went to review and add, someone else reviewing said that the book– and Francis’ Mind Fuck were her two favourite books ever. That was enough to get me interested. A brief glimpse at the blurb for Mind Fuck and I was completely intrigued: dystopia, bad guy protagonists and gay sex? Sounded like the sort of stuff I’d have been writing. I remember reading the book just before I got one of my tattoos, when I was half-asleep and coming off a night shift– it would have been February 2009, at a guess. And to be honest, I wasn’t overly impressed, though I realised there was hella potential there. And there was Toreth, who became one of my favourite characters in anything ever.
The Administration could easily be a simple sci-fi affair where there is good and evil and the eternal struggle for people to buck the system and do what’s right and there is tech so blasely talked about by the writer that it’s meant to sound casual but you know it’s secretly some fanboy’s masturbatory material. Francis turns the trope on its fucking head. For one thing, everything is mired in shades of grey– and she damn well realises it, as do the fans. (There is even a fan community with the name “Shades of Grey” on LiveJournal for the series. You can imagine my obvious heartbreak when a certain other series written by a fangirl and featuring kinky sex which also liked that phrase became quite prominent.) For another: she rightfully gets excited about the Sim– as does Warrick, the engineer developing it. Canon recognises quite rightfully that the thing is his baby and he frequently takes delight in it amongst putting in the sort of hard work and dedication to it that you’d expect from, I dunno, a young Bill Gates. As a reader, you share in the glee for– and the concern for– his product. You can see the potential for the thing when the government is what it is. And of course, because people do this, you have to wonder about the potential for the simulator to have, erm, adult purposes. Don’t worry: Manna Francis went there before you did, and there is corporate interest in utilising the Sim for adult entertainment purposes.
And that’s another rare win for the genre: Francis doesn’t shy away from human quirks. For me, this is the cherry on top of something that is already wonderful. All to often, sci-fi comes across as frosty and sterilised and kind of hostile, like the writers have forgotten that at heart, the characters they’re writing about are, well, human. (Or alien, as they may be, but there has to be something about them to make them 3D and interesting for my interest in their plight to happen.)
Manna Francis turns that on its head, too. And she doesn’t try to be witty and silly and “funny” about it, either. Her people do people-ish things. Her government department runs like one, with its politics and policies and paperwork underscoring everything. It gives the whole thing an air of believability, especially if you’ve worked in such an organisation.
Offside, and amongst the thriller aspect, the governmental organisation, the office politics and the implementation of the law (which can be fucking brutal, but which doesn’t seem terribly far-fetched, especially if you were to throw in some of the circumstances affecting Francis’ European Administration and the political climate in Europe at the moment), you get glimpses of humanity for these people: their friends and families and what they care about. Thrown in amongst all of that, you see the reactions of someone who hasn’t really had to deal with this stuff before, trying to adjust to the kind of domesticity and social stuff that would be normal for a lot of people. And there’s romance. Sort of. And… there’s some really well-written kink which doesn’t feel gratuitous and which is used sparingly and well: it’s not porn. It’s action which is moving along plot and character development and it just happens to be sexually explicit.
And the whole series has so much going on that it’s impossible to contain everything tidily in a summation, but the writing is succinct and the pacing is generally done so well that you’re moving somewhere– even if you’re not 100% sure where while you’re reading, and you’re learning about the world and putting it all together as you’re going along. Subsequent read-throughs– and buying the paperbacks rather than just reading the free offerings (oh, I forgot to mention that, didn’t I? Ms. Francis offers most of her work for free on her own website! [But there are two specific reasons in terms of learning about the series that will make you need the paperbacks that I can think of] By the way, it’s here: http://www.mannazone.org/) mean you’ll start noticing other intricacies as well, in the same way that you do when you watch The Usual Suspects after the first time.
This was totally the series that made me want to do a readthrough blog. Because a couple of reviews just ain’t gonna contain things.