In this era of “fake news” and lies and the necessity of fact checkers, there’s something really appealing about the idea of a society where truth is the ultimate virtue and anyone who lies, even a little, is punished for it. That’s the world of Golden State, by Ben H. Winters. Before you decide this is the world for you, however, you might want to consider, as Winters does, all the implications of how such a world would work and whether it would be an actual improvement over what we have now.
Something terrible happened in the past, but nobody in the world of Golden State knows what that was, because they do not keep their history. The United States is no more, and the nation known as Golden State has arisen from what was formerly California. In this nation, only truth is allowed, and the only people allowed to even consider possibilities other than verifiable fact are the Speculators, special enforcers like our protagonist, Laszlo, who are so sensitive to untruths that they are physically affected by the smallest of white lies, let alone major deceptions. In order to make sure everyone is telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, the state has turned into a veritable panopticon. There is no privacy for anyone; everything is always being observed and recorded, and citizens are required to keep diaries of everything they do, and to get other people to verify their versions of events.
Laszlo starts out with a new partner, investigating what should be a fairly simple question of whether someone who fell off a building died as a result of an industrial accident or whether he was pushed. With everything recorded and verified, this should be a piece of cake for Laszlo and his partner, but this is a situation where pulling on one thread begins to unravel everything. Over the course of the story, Laszlo begins to develop from a person who believes in all the rules and how essential they are to the functioning of the world to a person who starts to ask questions, even if they’re dangerous questions that go to the underpinnings of the whole society. What, after all, IS truth? Who determines what truth is the real thing? How can human beings, storytelling creatures by nature, refrain from ALL forms of untruth?
Golden State probably won’t make you eager to return to a world where truth seems to be a vanishing thing, but it will make you wonder exactly how far we should go to the other extreme of honesty.