"Moral Authority" [CreateSpace, August 2011] is author Jacob Z. Flores' debut novel, and what a debut it is! Flores has conceived a dystopian plot every bit as prophetic and sinister as George Orwell's "Nineteen Eighty-Four," except that in this case the unforgiving focus is on homosexuality as the `thoughtcrime' and homosexuals as the prescribed enemies of `the common good'. Therefore, my hat goes off to him for having tackled (successfully in my opinion) a demanding literary challenge of this complexity so early in his career.
The story centres on Mark Bryon, a quite average graduate student who in ordinary circumstances wouldn't attract any undue attention apart from being young and attractive. However these are not "ordinary" times when every move, both public and private, is subject to scrutiny by those who have voluntarily subjected themselves to a morally-incorrupt, corrupt state: i.e. "The Moral Authority." Therefore, there is a very Orwellian tone throughout, including a `Big Brother' in the person of Samuel Pleasant, `Newspeak," and the subjugation of free thought.
There are also the usual twin pillars that form the basis of most fascist regimes, e.g. a simplistic reason for being, and a perceived enemy--both within and without. For example:
"According to Randy Gonzales, over the past thirty-five years the United States managed to save itself from moral corruption because of the newest branch of our nation's government. Since its inception by President Sarah Palin in 2014 and the constitutional amendment she and the Republican majority helped pass the following year, the moral downslide the country experienced then had not only been halted but come about at least 180 degrees. Gone were the days of media violence and pornography. All illegal drugs and associated crimes had been virtually eliminated. Murder, rape, gang violence, thefts, domestic crimes, prostitution, and even vandalism accounted for less than 10% of the overall crime rate in the entire nation. As a result, communities within the United States enjoyed a golden age." 14
And the perceive enemy:
"Constitutional amendments and which all had their origins from within the Moral Authority, freed this country from such unhealthy lifestyle choices that caused many health and societal problems, such as homosexuality, obesity, smoking, alcoholism, and even profanity. To commemorate the thirty-fifth anniversary, the Supreme High Chancellor of the Moral Authority, Samuel Pleasant, planned to address the nation the following week. Speculations already abounded that Supreme High Chancellor Pleasant intended to unveil further social legislation to better streamline this nation's morality. This came about due to recent attacks against moral law instigated by a group of domestic terrorists calling themselves the Human Rights Campaign." 15
The story then builds on this theme, and as it progresses the plot gets darker and darker in very much the same fashion as totalitarian states rule by edict and the point of a gun. However, at no time does the author push any of this over the top so that credibility is strained. Even in the latter parts of the story when the Moral Authority's "K3s" are at their cruelest (i.e KKK, the equivalent of the Nazi's SS elite guard), the reader is never caused to doubt that it could happen.
Along the way, however, the author does make some cogent observations in the context of the narrative, i.e.
"According to Mark's research, the number of Americans cited with violations of the moral code of respect had risen in many major U.S. cities. The manpower and resources alone used to enforce such petty violations could be better redirected to rehabilitating offenders who committed more egregious crimes in the nation," 33
which is a point that applies beyond this fiction to real life. I might add, as well, that the hidden cost of every law--large or small--that is made and enforced is a diminution of our civil liberties. I think this is the message to be gained from this story.
On the other hand, I think I could be tempted to accept a law that restricted unruly children in restaurants, i.e.
"The mother and father looked exhausted, and he could see why. Their two preschool aged boys were in the middle of a pretend sword fight with their chopsticks as stand in swords. Obviously, there were no moral officers here as the parents would certainly be in violation of the code of respect concerning the appropriate behavior of children in public." 35
Altogether this is an engrossing story from beginning to end, a real page-turner and superbly written. I nominate Moral Authority by Jacob Z. Flores as the most outstanding debut novel of the year. Five Stars.