The Truth Machine, by James L. Halperin

the-truth-machine-by-james-l-halperin coverGenre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Ballantine
Published: 1997
Reviewer Rating: four stars
Book Review by Lynn Nicole Louis

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What if there was an infallible machine that could detect when a person was lying? What if this machine became so ingrained into world society that you could be subjected to it at any time for any reason? To get a job, to get married, when convicted of a crime…. And what if there was one person in the entire world who was able to beat it? That’s the basis behind Halperin’s The Truth Machine

Human beings lie all the time; to our spouses or significant others, to our family, to our friends, to our co-workers, our bosses…. Most of these lies are small, often told to avoid hurting someone’s feelings. But what if you couldn’t get away with the smallest, most inconsequential lie? “Do I look fat in this dress?” Better tell the truth, or you might find yourself hooked up to the Truth Machine.

Each of us has probably pondered at one time or another that not being able to get away with lying would be a good thing, especially when watching the O.J. trial. When it comes to crime, the only person who knows guilt or innocence for sure is the one accused. Should they be forced to speak the truth? How close does that tread to no privacy? Your most private thoughts revealed — if you’re hooked up to a truth machine and asked the right questions. No more guessing in trials–and that’s a big aspect of Halperin’s story; the use of the truth machine for crime.

In 2004, violent crime is the number one concern in America. The justice system is anything but fair (just like today), and people are tired of being afraid. But what are they willing to sacrifice to be safe? What are you willing to sacrifice to be safe?

Randall Peter Armstrong is a certified genius, the most gifted computer programmer on the planet. Leonard Charles Armstrong is his younger brother, killed by a criminal who beat the system. Randall has made it his mission to build a truth machine so that criminals will never get away with crimes again. Yet will he have to commit a crime himself to complete his life’s goal?

This is Halperin’s first novel, and although the writing is sometimes rough, his characterization can stand next to that of any established author. Interesting too are the brief current event speculations with which he begins each chapter. The book was written in 1996 and some of his speculations for 1997 — 2003 are uncanny in their accuracy (evcen though others are pretty far off the mark).

The Truth Machine has a strong political element that grants a high level of veracity to its events. The sometimes clunky writing is more than made up for by the characterization. There were many times when I was reluctant to put it down. I think Halperin did an excellent job of speculating just what such a machine would do to our society, and to the man who invented it.

I highly recommended The Truth Machine to people who like near term, societal SF with well-developed characters.

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