The Naperville White House ~ by Jerome Bartels
When a tired and staid old political system can’t find solutions to world crises, democracy takes a startling new course. A complex, intriguing and clever book set in a near future where gaming enthusiasts set up fantasy governments which come to rival the real thing.
About: The book appears to be by Jerome Bartels – a “crusading vagabond journalist” who is hired by the ex-President to write a book about the Stockdale Hostage Crisis which happened in the fall of 2018. During 2019 Bartels drove thousands of miles, conducted many interviews with key figures, watched weeks of video, read volumes of transcripts and tapped his own anonymous sources. At the end of it all, via this book, he attempted to recreate the events of the fateful three weeks of the Crisis, and ultimately drew his own conclusions about the events and some of the mysterious people involved in them.
The President in question is Jay Weise.
Through Nationizer gaming software, people have set up fantasy governments and compete with each other by tracking and responding to real-life events and by making decisions which are logged into the gaming system. With no ties to big business and unburdened by the dead weight of a failing political system, the fantasy governments take a fresh approach and generate creative new ideas. Jay Weise is the President of one of the most well developed of the fantasy governments, which is based in Naperville, Illinois. He has turned his house into a mini replica of the White House, complete with its own Oval Office, Situation Room and replica furniture and paintings. His government has a full cabinet, including a Chief of Staff, Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, Director of National Intelligence and Press Secretary. Most have mundane jobs in the real world, but still dedicate huge amounts of time and energy into their fantasy government roles.
At the time of the story, the United States has been fighting three separate terrorism wars for nearly a decade, abductions and bombings occur regularly around the world, the economy is ailing, and America’s relationships with traditional allies around the world are crumbling. Regular politicians continue to promise solutions, but nothing ever seems to be solved. Then the US is rocked when an Al Qaeda backed terror group kidnaps five partners of senior politicians and holds them hostage; through a series of events (I’ll not spoil the story by describing them) Jay Weise and his government are drawn deeply into the crisis. His prime objective is to help free the hostages; the objectives of the real US government are much less clear and its motives and actions are shrouded in secrecy. Meanwhile someone else seems to be working behind the scenes to push things to a head.
John’s Thoughts: This book was like a breath of fresh air – a clever idea, very novel, thought provoking and an entertaining read. It’s one of those storylines which is, at one and the same time, both outrageous and almost plausible; for me that’s a winning combination. Certainly it’s not too difficult to imagine a political world similar to the one created here; in truth we’re close enough already. On top of that the internet and the world of gaming are advancing so rapidly that the fantasy governments of the novel don’t feel like too much of a stretch. And, goodness knows, there is enough frustration at the political system and lame politicians to fuel the motivations of people like Jay Weise.
So there is a very cool idea as a foundation, and Mark Pedriani (the real author) adds to it a nice writing style, a good pace, some humor and big dollops of twisty, intriguing plot. There are some pretty neat characters too. Weise and all of his main cabinet members are well structured and have some depth. I think the technique of using Bartels as the author and voice of the story also works well. All in all, a fun read that I blew through in two days. I’d rate this book 4 stars. If you like somewhat futuristic political thrillers, or get a kick out of regular folks (ok – somewhat nerdy folks) winning out over Big Brother, then I’d most definitely recommend this book.
If you are interested in reviewing this book yourself it is available on Net Galley. This book was sent to John for review from Bancroft Press. Thanks Harrison!
Thanks for reading.