Usually I start off a review with the cover copy of a book or the description from the publisher’s page. Since the book doesn’t have cover copy and the description on the publisher’s page is almost as long as my average review, I thought I’d forego that custom today and just give you the gist of it myself. Secret Thoughts contains three novella’s set in the same alternate Earth-setting in which telepathy is possible and even regulated. Each novella examines the use, the ethics and the dangers of using such a gift, set against a background where possession of said gift quickly comes to mean a death sentence.
Earlier this year I participated in a blog tour for Hasson’s latest offering, The Emoticon Generation, and was blown away by it. The author was kind enough to offer me a review copy of his earlier collection, Secret Thoughts. And while I enjoyed this previous collection, it didn’t blow me away as much as The Emoticon Generation did. This isn’t actually a bad thing, because it wouldn’t be good news for Hasson if his first collection outshone the one following it, since readers expect a writer to grow in his craft. As there are only three stories in the collection, I will discuss them separately.
The Perfect Girl
We follow young Alexandra Watson as she enters the Indianapolis Academy for Telepathy, an institution that seems part Hunger Games, part Hogwarts, and all around sinister. Through Alexandra’s first person narration we follow her to class and to her work in the Academy’s morgue, where we discover that for a short while after death telepaths can still access the deceased’s memories. During the lesson in doing so Alexandra is snared by the dead young woman’s memories and what ensues is a fascinating look at the danger of so fully immersing yourself in someone else’s feelings and convictions and how easy it is to lose your sense of self. It’s also an exploration of how human memory is not a faithful recording of events as they happened, but are always filtered through the lens of our experience, beliefs, and emotions. I liked the resolution to this one, as it was unexpected and quite interesting.
This was my favourite novella in the collection. Sometime after the last novella was set, telepaths come to be considered a menace to society and to be freaks and they are hunted down and eliminated. Some of them have escaped and gone into hiding, trying to live a normal life, but always living in fear of being discovered. I loved how Hasson conveyed this fear of discovery and his description of how quickly it all went to pieces. The interaction between Rachel, the protagonist, and Special Agent Brooks was well-done. Her sense of relief to be able to touch him without sensing his thoughts was almost palpable. The interaction with Charley, the unidentified creature, was fascinating. Rachel’s approach to making contact and constructing a coherent language from the emotions she sensed from him was amazing and as a language person myself, it really resonated with me. Charley’s at once alien and human perception and communication was really compelling. The story ends on a sense of hope at no longer having to fear pursuit and at being able to be herself without reservations that was overwhelming and beautiful.
Most Beautiful Intimacy
This last tale troubled me for many reasons. The sense of intimacy between the narrator and his wife made me feel claustrophobic and stifled; just the idea of it made my skin itch. I also had some practical objections: if they knew she was never allowed to get pregnant because it would mean her death, why did she take the pill, why not choose to have tubal litigation or let him get a vasectomy? However, once she gets pregnant the ending was an almost foregone conclusion, which rather took the wind out of that particular sail. What I did like was the sense we get that her body and her mind are taken over by the baby and that she is becoming an alien in her own body. That’s something I could relate to; as it’s something I’ve experienced myself. The realisation that you can’t eat or drink something anymore, not because it might be harmful for the baby’s health but because it doesn’t like it, is rather odd. Similarly the fact that you can’t tie your shoe laces any more or sleep in your preferred manner, even as you want to sleep far more than normal, is incredibly frustrating. Not to mention all the movement going on inside you over which you have no influence whatsoever. I felt Hasson captured that feeling nicely. Still, while it was an enjoyable story, I found it rather frustrating and predictable, even if the ending was good.
Secret Thoughts didn’t leave me as bowled over as its successor did, perhaps due in part to the fact that it ended on my least favourite story of the three. It did, however, affirm my impression of Hasson’s talent and craft. He writes compelling stories and anyone interested in the exploration of telepathy and how humanity might react to it will find elements to interest them in this collection. Personally, I’d love to see more of Hasson’s work and I’m curious to see how powerful a story he could weave in a full-length novel. Meanwhile, go and read Secret Thoughts and then pick up The Emoticon Generation.
This collection was provided for review by the author.