April 9, 2012

My Brother My Judge by Neal Wooten

Dustin and Trevor are brothers. Dustin is a responsible guy with a strong work ethic and commands the respect of everyone around him. Trevor is an apparent loser who lives in his mother's basement with his Star Wars memorabilia and comic book collection, building computer programs for friends and dreaming up far-fetched inventions. Both men are highly intelligent, but Dustin's humility prevents him from seeing it and Trevor's conceit camouflages it. Trevor is tired of his perfect brother underestimating him, and Dustin is tired of his loser brother being such a dead weight in the family. The only thing the two brothers have in common is their love for their nephew, Frankie.

One day, a bet between the brothers leads Trevor to create a computer program that can determine the outcome of any criminal court case. To the family's surprise, the program begins to create quite an impressive income for Trevor. It doesn't take long before government agents show up at Trevor's door wanting him to create a more comprehensive version of his program. The pay is so generous he jumps on it, giving little thought to what use the government might have for such a program.

Years later, the judicial system is changed drastically, juries and judges replaced by a computer, nicknamed Judgment, that could process each case and issue a verdict within seconds. Trevor is disturbed to see what his brainchild has become, but can say nothing for fear of death. Dustin thinks it's a great idea until Frankie is suspected of a crime and set to appear before Judgment. Dustin does what he can to help Frankie, but his research shows that Judgment only issues guilty verdicts and harsh punishment regardless of the evidence or lack thereof. Trevor and Dustin must find a way to work together despite their differences to save him.

When I receive lists of books available to review, it seems that more and more of them are just clones of recent bestsellers. I skim through the descriptions thinking to myself "let's see... Lovely Bones clone, Water for Elephants clone, Life of Pi clone, Eat Pray Love clone, Twilight clone, Twilight clone, Twilight clone..." etc. I am so tired of the lack of originality in "literature" today! Neal Wooten stands out as a singular Jedi in this clone army. His ideas are refreshingly original, and he is something of a trickster, throwing out surprises that catch even the most jaded reader.

What I enjoyed the most in this book was the relationship between the brothers and the way their statuses as opposites shift throughout the book. Anyone with siblings can relate to their struggles and their dichotomy as they attempt to get through life as a family. I definitely saw my own sibling relationships being played out, leading me to feel that Wooten himself must have some experience in this area. It is all very subtle, there's no overt leading of the reader or exposition on this subject, but the theme is solid.

When I reviewed Reternity last summer, I mentioned that Wooten's female characters weren't fleshed out very well. I'm happy to report that this is not so in My Brother My Judge. While still not occupying any main roles, the females are so well portrayed I can almost smell them. And I greatly appreciated the lack of formula romance. There is a degree of romance but it's sincere and mature. No heaving bosoms or getting caught in a deserted cabin in the rain with only one horse, one blanket, two petticoats, and a shoulder wound. So thanks again Mr. Wooten for an outstanding read, and I look forward to seeing what you come up with next!

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