Think Speak Publishing, 164 pages, paperback, $9.99
Just like cooking, writing is not only about having the right ingredients — it’s also about putting them together successfully and creating a final product that’s enjoyable and in which none of the elements used overpower the others. Shahab and Shahram Zargari’s Prison Break 2438 accomplishes that elusive balance, a feat made more impressive by the fact that the novel is the duo’s first book. A post-apocalyptic action drama with sci-fi slant, Prison Break 2438 mixes equal parts of violence, tension, and intrigue with double-agents, explosions, and gunplay. The authors sprinkle in a dash of romance and serve it all on an underlying message of social equality.
The story takes place in the 2400s. The United States of America is no more. War, xenophobia, religious differences and natural disasters have all contributed to splitting the nation into two separate areas known as Kali and Middlechris. Profit Hank Smith is the ruthless head of state of Middlechris, and his discourse is full of racial intolerance and hardcore religious values. On the other hand, Kali is a place where everyone is of mixed race, and despite the gangs and occasional violence, citizens try their best to live in peace while dreaming of a better future. When Juan Olofson, a Che Guevara-like figure who’s seen as hero in Kali, is captured and taken to a prison in Middlechris, friend and bookstore owner Franco finds himself joining the Tiger’s Paw Army in order to rescue Olofson. The subsequent mission is bloody and vicious, but everyone involved knows that the future of Kali hangs in the balance.
Gore, sex, loyalty, heroism, and plenty of death make Prison Break 2438 an entertaining read. Small details like a new language or the narration of a hallucinogenic drug experience (with a tip of the hat to writers and drug icons like Timothy Leary and Hunter S. Thompson) make it obvious that the Zargaris wanted to add depth to the story they tell.
That which the authors decided to include in the narrative is as important as the things they left out. Although this is a post-apocalyptic story, there are no cyborgs, mutants, zombies, or any of the other clichés that have turned this type of fiction into something formulaic and repetitive. That being said, there are a few elements that were excluded that would have made the story even better. For example, skin tone distinguishing technology is mentioned, but the authors never fully explain how it works or delve into the impact it has on society.
By steering clear of literary ambitions, using a very straightforward prose, and not bogging down the narrative with too much romance, the nonstop action and ever-changing points of view in the book take center stage and give it a cinematic quality. In fact, the best way to describe Prison Break 2438 is to call it a race-conscious hybrid between the Escape from New York and the Mad Max trilogy.
Although the fighting, torturing, backstabbing, and heroic acts of the characters are the book’s main attractions, what ultimately makes Prison Break 2438 a recommendable read is the way it fuses very real historical problems with an imagined future. Considering the state of race relations today, it’s not too hard to think there is a veiled warning here. Thankfully, if there is a message, it’s never delivered in pretentiously didactic way, so the only way to figure it out is to pick up a copy and read it.