Imagine if you had the power to improve humanity – everybody on Earth – all at once, would you do it? And are you certain that thing you would do would actually improve humans? Hmmm. Quite the quandary. That is the premise that Liam Card brings forward in his book STOPGAP.
For much of my abbreviated life on Earth, the relationship I had with death was a inconsistent as it was mystifying. As a boy, attempting to wrap my mind around the unflinching laws of nature seemed the most unnatural of tasks – a mental decathlon resulting in total upheaval versus that of order and balance. Suddenly, life no longer came with a guarantee on the packaging. Life was something that could be lost. And not lost like an action figure or a baseball over the fence. Not like a scarf or rogue winter glove that could find its way into the lost and found. Life was now something that could be permanently unaccounted for. No tricky coin slot for second tries. No chairlift up for another wild run at it. On any given day, one could happen to be with out it.
Yet, dead is what Luke Stevenson finds himself in. This simple jeweler who was trapped in a frustrating marriage should have been granted a simple afterlife. Yet, as a ghost, he is put in charge to mentor Safia, an angry teenager who died a violent death. But Safia’s powers go beyond what any other ghost can do – actually interfering with the living to the point of killing them – and Luke becomes ensnared in Safia’s plans to rid the world of violent acts between humans.
“I’d like to know why my involvement and service is required before you go on your self-justified killing spree.”
“First, let me tell you about Operation Stopgap,” she said. “The world has been able to operate as it has for far too long. Too often, those who harm or kill others walk away with little to no punishment to speak of, and to be clear, I do not consider time behind bars or life in prison to be justice. Clearly, then the criminal justice system in place is not working, nor is it terrifying enough to deter a person from committing atrocities. The world needs something to close the gap between violent crime and punishment. Thus, I present to you our operation. Anyone caught in an attempt to commit a malicious act toward another human being with the clear intent to maim, murder, or cause sever bodily harm is considered guilty, as per the mandate of Operation Stopgap. Upon identification of the Thought Marker, that individual is to be executed before the act of violence can be committed. Luke, this is where you come in. I cannot be gathering information to process. I need you to collect the data. I need you to chart the thought patterns of malicious intent and rank those individuals according to Thought Markers and the time horizon of the event taking place,” she said, and she showed me exactly how to do that. “You send me the coordinates of Thought Markers, and I will be racing around the world, protecting the innocent. It’s that simple.”
“You don’t think any of this is wrong?”
Card has a unique writing style perhaps coming from his background in film. His descriptions are short, quick, descriptive and vivid. And that works well for a plot dealing with abstracts from visions of the afterlife. Trying to understand something we haven’t truly experience can be hard to explain, but Card does give us a suggestion of what might lay beyond.
Open-minded or closed, agnostic or fundamentalist, no one is prepared for the Post-Death Line. And being unprepared is without fault. As humans, the one thing we are all guilty of is living in the world. You can’t pick the continent or country of your parents, nor can you pick their belief system. We become bombarded with right and wrong from an early age. We are hammered into form like a blacksmith shapes wrought iron, and generally, we do out best to fit in with the herd. We become consumed by stories and promises and drink it all in. There is power in words and in numbers. We remove ourselves from what’s real and hang on to what sounds good.
The Line gets all of this sorted rather quickly and efficiently.
Here’s how it works:
Imagine the impossibly long lines at customs after an international flight or two has landed. Lines chock full of people from varying countries and creeds, all ripe with unique experiences and stories to tell. Imagine each line running parallel to one another and place tens of thousands of people in each row. Now arrange those lines as if they are the steel spokes on a bicycle wheel, attached to a centre core.
Where the spokes meet the core is where the Bookkeeper exists.
Many of him, actually.
Copies of him, shoulder to shoulder, hand in hand, like a string of paper dolls. And the Bookkeeper stands there, receiving the recently deceased after they have made their way to the Post-Death Line.
STOPGAP is certainly a unique and interesting book. It causes a reader to ponder and wonder not only about life after death but the notions of right and wrong. In short a good read.