Unfettered Journey
by Gary F. Bengier
Chiliagon Press

"Let the truth of the argument win rather than blindly accept any authority."

The world in 2161 has survived the Climate Wars, and humans are now totally dependent upon technology. A strict social order has been imposed on humanity—a sort of caste system known as the Leveling Act—which makes it illegal for those of different groups to intermingle. Joe Denkensmith is a theoretical mathematician who has grown disillusioned in attempting to create AI consciousness. Joe, having decided to take a break from his regular job, disconnects from his Personal Intelligent Digital Assistant (PIDA) and leaves the city to spend a year teaching at a small college. He hopes to gain perspective as he contemplates philosophical questions that have arisen during his work with AI.

Joe meets Evie, a young woman protesting against the Leveling Act, and his life takes an entirely unexpected turn. He helps her escape arrest and hides her in his apartment. Eventually, she feels safe enough to return to her home and work. Joe begins to help her as she protests for social justice. Unfortunately, they are arrested and sent to The Zone, a wasteland where people who are enemies of the state are sent to fend for themselves and, usually, to die. It is here that Joe learns the most important lessons of his life.

This speculative fiction novel combines elements of mathematical theory, philosophy, and artificial intelligence in a dystopian adventure/love story. There are many journeys that Joe undertakes within the scope of his story. The book is divided into five parts, each concerning a variation on a journey's theme: Inward, Outward, Backward and Forward, Upward and Downward, and Onward. During the course of undertaking these journeys, the protagonist searches for answers to some rather heady questions: for example, "What is free will?" The book includes a glossary of scientific terms, which is very helpful. It also features an index of three philosophy papers concerning time, ontology (the study of the nature of reality), and the nature of the mind, which add to one's understanding of the novel's philosophical concepts. Though it is fun to dive into this book's various philosophical rabbit holes, it isn't necessary to enjoy it. The book holds its own as a good story.

Bengier is well-equipped for this particular look at the future and the philosophical questions he poses. After receiving a degree from Harvard Business School, he began a Silicon Valley career in the tech industry. He eventually pursued a degree in philosophy and has dedicated himself to seeking balance in his life. A world traveler, he uses his education and inquisitive mind to create fiction that encourages his readers to contemplate not only aspects of the future but how they approach their own lives in general. As Joe states early in the novel, "I want to know the truth. I want to know how and why." One gets the idea this is the author himself speaking.

Though the novel is heavy on mathematics and science at times, it is so well-written that this isn't a hindrance to the reader's enjoyment of the book's excellent storyline. This is one of those novels that stays with the reader long after the last page is finished. It is also one that readers may wish to hold onto in order to read again and again, as it delves into some profound ideas.

Winner in the 2021 Eric Hoffer Book Award Spiritual Fiction Category.

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