In The Revisionists by Thomas Mullen, Zed is a government agent from the future masquerading as Leroy Jones, a non-descript worker in the private sector in Washington D.C. Zed is from the Perfect Present, a time in the future when the majority of people have successfully integrated themselves into a raceless, classless, strifeless society. This change occurs after a cataclysmic event called The Great Conflagration. Zed’s job is to keep the future perfect, and to do that, he has to make sure the most horrendous crimes in the history of humanity actually happen. In the course of his latest assignment, Zed crosses paths with Leo, a spy who has lost his way; Sari, a diplomat’s housekeeper in a precarious situation; and Tasha, a young lawyer who is grieving the loss of her brother.
I had reservations about reading The Revisionists even though much acclaim accompanied it at Book Expo America. It was described to me as a literary dystopian novel with time travel elements, and initially I took a pass on it because it looked complicated, bleak and like too much work for someone who is not a huge fan of spy novels. I started reading it because I am pretty much incapable of letting a book leave my library without giving it a once-over, and in those first few pages of Zed’s odd story, I was hooked. It’s a smart book, filled with recognizable theories and opinions in our current existence and a glimpse of where such inclinations might lead. It’s hard not to feel immediately involved and at least partially knowledgeable about the complex storyline. Indeed, it’s hard to walk away.
In the beginning it was getting to see modern-day D.C. through Zed’s futuristic eyes that provided the intrigue, but in the end it was the close attention that Mullen pays to his disillusioned and vulnerable characters that kept me turning the pages. They are all pushed to the edge in some way, and it is anyone’s guess how they will handle being so close to the edge.
The Revisionists is a high tech spy drama which explores heavy questions of what comprises meaningful humanity, what we are willing to sacrifice in order to live in peaceful society, and how the framing and presentation of information and history influences behavior. All are timely and absorbing questions. It’s also an ambitious take on the utopian future, with many moving parts in constructing and explaining the utopian future, its technology and approaches to managing history. Though ending wanted for a few things, and depending on the reader it might be a tad rushed or a bit too ambiguous, it never fails to be thought-provoking and engaging read. Recommended.