The Fear Principle, the first book in the Fear series by B. A. Chepaitis, was first published in 1998 under the name Barbara Chepaitis. The books in this science fiction series are being reprinted, and the first two of the four books were re-released recently. The titles that come after The Fear Principle are as follows, respectively: The Fear of God, Learning Fear, and A Lunatic Fear.
The Planetoids were developed in response to what became known as the “Killing Times,” a time when serial murder became so common that everyday life was fraught with danger. These rehabilitation centers are based on the premise that fear is the root of criminal behavior. On the Planetoids, criminals are first tested in order to discover their primary fear, then a program is developed for making them face that fear. Then, a Teacher is assigned to execute the program and work with the felon individually to help him or her overcome that fear. In most cases, they are successful and the criminal returns to Earth to never commit a crime again – or sometimes, the former convict even chooses to stay and work on the Planetoid.
Dr. Jaguar Addams often takes the unconventional approach and modifies programs she believes to be flawed, but her track record speaks for itself: she may not be the most experienced Teacher, but she is the most successful. With a special gift for empathy and a keen instinct, Jaguar often uses her psi capabilities to her advantage, as most do even though it’s technically not allowed. When Clare Rilasco, an assassin who has murdered countless men, is captured and brought to Planetoid Three, Jaguar is assigned to her case. However, this isn’t just any assignment. Not only is Jaguar supposed to help Clare become a law-abiding member of society, but she’s also supposed to find out who she was working for when she murdered the governor of Colorado – a rather difficult task with Clare’s particular personality and the fact that her clients would like to remain anonymous for obvious reasons.
The Fear Principle is one of those books I’m on the fence about and didn’t really like or dislike overall. While there was a lot about the book that really worked for me, these parts were balanced out by a lot that did not work as well for me.
The premise hooked me from the beginning and set up a rather interesting future scenario. The book takes place after a major societal decline and deals with the facilities where the cure is administered. Murder rates had increased to the point where just going out to get food was dangerous in many cities. Eventually, a new system was devised for working with criminals based on discovering what fear drove them to feel the need to commit crime. These felons were sent away to receive individualized treatment. First, they were tested to discover the root cause of their fear, and then they worked with a Teacher with training in psychological studies who helped them overcome that fear. Also, some of these Teachers like Jaguar, the main character, had psi capabilities, so they were able to delve into other people’s minds when working with them. It’s an intriguing concept: how education and specialized treatment (perhaps with a dose of empathic powers thrown in) could help with reforming those who cause problems in society.
It’s not all about solving the problems of the world, though. The Fear Principle also has a lot of action, some mystery, and just a little bit of romance. There’s the question of who hired Clare and Jaguar becomes involved in untangling the threads of what happened. Jaguar is also facing another Teacher who wants to take her down, and the full story of what happened between the two comes out over the course of the book. The romance is very subtle and not the main focus, and it starts out a bit one-sided but it’s hard not to root for someone who is so quietly caring. In this particular instance, love is doing what is best for someone without expecting anything at all in return, and I liked the non-flirtatious, mature, and kind way it was handled.
Most of the other characters didn’t do much for me, and I didn’t love any of them, but I did like Jaguar’s personality and the complexity of her character. She’s someone who doesn’t care for authority and she does come across as brash at times, but she does have a compassionate side and good instincts. Although she can be very stubborn, she’s also not incapable of changing her opinion when presented with new facts. Throughout the course of the story, more is learned about her past and how she chose to react to it and managed not to fall into the same traps as others. While I never cared about her so much that I was on the edge of my seat hoping she’d pull through anytime tension rose, I was able to admire her as a character.
Even though there was plenty to like about the book, there were two things that did not work for me at all: the writing style and the pacing. The prose style is very casual, to the point where it’s full of sentence fragments. The dialogue is written how people speak with words like “lemme,” “kinda,” “gotta” and “where’ve.” Although I understand why it is often used, it’s not a style that appeals to me personally. There’s also a lot of infodumping. At first, I didn’t mind this since it filled in what had happened to cause the creation of the prisoner reform program and told about how this new system worked. It never stopped, though. There are a lot of third person perspective switches, and when it does it usually has a lot more of their thoughts than I really needed to know going on for too long. Also, some of the dialogue is overly dramatic and a bit corny:
“You’re way out of line, Dr. Addams,” he said coldly. “Whatever Nick’s doing, I’ll handle. You better keep track of yourself.”
“Oh, I can track myself. Don’t you worry.” She put her hands on his desk and her face level with his, leaning forward.
“I can track a cat under a new moon, or the smallest scent of death in open air. I can track last week’s eagle in a cloudy sky. And I can track you, Supervisor. Even you. So keep Nick away from me, or I’ll take care of him myself. My way.” [pp. 73]
The text was filled with typographical errors and missing words to the point where it was very distracting as well.
Before I close, I just want to make one note on content. There is a memory revealed at the very end that some may find difficult. It’s somewhat important to the story so I don’t want to say what it is, but if you want to know basically what it involves and if it would be a problem for you, read the spoiler below.
The Fear Principle started out promising with some interesting ideas and a decent main character. However, in spite of the entertaining story and an appreciation for a couple of the protagonists, the writing style and some of the dialogue really grated on me to the point that when I reached the end, I didn’t feel like I wanted more.
My Rating: 5/10
Where I got my reading copy: Review copy from a publicist for the blog tour.