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Golden State

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Lazlo Ratesic is 54, a 19-year veteran of the Speculative Service, from a family of law enforcement and in a strange alternate society that values law and truth above all else. This is how Laz must, by law, introduce himself, lest he fail to disclose his true purpose or nature, and by doing so, be guilty of a lie.

Laz is a resident of The Golden State, a nation resembling California, where like-minded Americans retreated after the erosion of truth and the spread of lies made public life, and governance, increasingly impossible. There, surrounded by the high walls of compulsory truth-telling, knowingly contradicting the truth--the Objectively So--is the greatest possible crime. Stopping those crimes, punishing them, is Laz's job. In its service, he is one of the few individuals permitted to harbor untruths--to "speculate" on what might have happened in the commission of a crime.

But the Golden State is far less a paradise than its name might suggest. To monitor, verify, and enforce the Objectively So requires a veritable panopticon of surveillance, recording, and record-keeping. And when those in control of the truth twist it for nefarious means, the Speculators may be the only ones with the power to fight back.

319 pages, Hardcover

First published January 22, 2019

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Ben H. Winters

50 books1,873 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,273 reviews
Profile Image for Annet.
570 reviews714 followers
January 31, 2020
What if the truth was built on lies?
Absolutely loved this book and I do love this writer who writes dark and thought provoking dystopian novels. 4.6 so five stars. I read some of the criticism on details of the storyline, but h*ll, loved it from start to finish. Weird and out of this world. Could this happen? As usual more to follow but I do recommend this out of the box book.

Welcome to Golden State, where the worst crime you can commit is to lie, in a world where everything is recorded and no one can be trusted...
Laz Ratesic is a veteran of the State's special police. Those in power trust him to find the full and final truth. When a man falls from a roof in suspicious circumstances, it sets in motion a terrifying series of events which will shatter Laz's world for ever. When those in control of the truth decide to twist it, only those with the power to ask questions can fight back...
For those who like out of the box apocalyptic reads, recommended! I do like the style of this writer.
Profile Image for Emily (Books with Emily Fox).
526 reviews57.6k followers
February 20, 2019
This book gave me 1984 and The Giver vibes with its dystopian world.

A world where truth is important and lying can get you exiled.

An interesting premise but a shorter format would have worked better for me.
Profile Image for Paromjit.
2,539 reviews24.6k followers
December 16, 2018
Ben H. Winters writes a thrilling dystopian novel with a central mystery that puts the protagonist on a challenging road that questions everything he has ever believed in. Golden State is a future version of California, a state where truth and objectivity is everything and to veer from this central tenet risks jail and exile. There is no past, no history, no documents, only what is. The concept of fiction no longer exists, and a novel is now understood to be a true history or truth, an interesting concept as storytelling is an integral part of what it is to be human. With echoes of Big Brother in Orwell's 1984 and Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, there is complete 24 hour surveillance, CCTV and more, with people keeping personal journals of their daily lives, countersigned by others present as the verifiable truth. A bureaucratic approach is central in this society with vital importance placed on record keeping as an objective plank to confirming the truth.

54 year old Laz Ratesic is an experienced law enforcer, part of the Speculator Service, the only ones allowed to speculate what the truth might be. Laz still carries grief over the death of his brother, a legendary fellow speculator. In this disturbing world, Laz and his new female black partner look into the death of a man who fell off a rooftop, is it an accident or something more sinister? Laz has had no reason to question the world he lives in, it is his truth and he stands by it. His perception slowly begins to shatter as he investigates, for bubbling beneath the surface are power struggles, corruption and resistance. The truth is open to manipulation, nothing is as it seems, and nothing can be relied on, including Laz himself. This is twisted and suspenseful storytelling, of conspiracy, with beautifully imagined world building from the author. It reflects our contemporary ailments, such as fake news whilst exploring the concepts of tyranny, absolute truth and objectivity. This is brilliant thought provoking fiction which I thoroughly enjoyed reading. Many thanks to Random House Cornerstone for an ARC.
Profile Image for Robin.
475 reviews2,551 followers
February 16, 2019
Can you handle the truth? I am asking you, Tom Cruise.

This dystopian-speculative-noir beauty will draw you in, and bring to mind classics of its ilk: 1984 and Fahrenheit 451. This book is set in an unknown time, in the state formerly known as California. Something of great import has happened to cause the government to protect its citizens by enforcing a society based on TRUTH, or, as they call it, "Objectively So".

Sounds okay, but it isn't. It's a militaristic, big-brother-esque world in which anything contrary to the 'truth' is an act against the state, and punishable by prison or worse, exile. It's a world in which people greet each other by exchanging indisputable facts ("A cow has four stomachs." "A person has one."). It's a world in which people called Speculators who, like drug-sniffing dogs, can practically smell a lie, bring criminals to meet their out-of-proportion punishments.

The main character, Laszlo, is one of those lie-sniffers. He's from a family of lie-sniffers, and he sniffs himself into a crap-load of trouble.

Ben H. Winters spins quite the tale, a story that begs to be read compulsively for the first 3/4, and then drops into a bizarre Scooby-Doo ending in which identities are revealed, "TA-DA", and pumpkins are inexplicably launched off the top of the Mirage hotel. I didn't enjoy the ending, truth be told.

But, in the spirit of full disclosure, I did love much of the book. It made me think about truth, its subjectivity, and its varying degrees. It made me think about how truth can be twisted, and is twisted, by the Powers That Be.

I enjoyed how the author used fiction itself in an ironic, playful way, as a study of "truth". The state bans its citizens to read seductive and tempting novels because fiction is deemed fabrication, and therefore illegal. Yet it is through this supposedly lie-filled medium that we receive this story.

It also made me think about how lying is an essential part of human freedom, how it works for good as well as bad. How I wished longingly for the characters to have the space, the privacy, even the creativity, to tell a good whopper, for better or worse.

Two plus two equals four. Ben H. Winters is worth reading.

3.75 stars
Profile Image for Tim.
471 reviews592 followers
February 19, 2019
Well, this book was a rollercoaster ride in terms of what rating I thought I would give it. It started out a solid 4 stars, with a decent possibility of a 5 as I went along. We then came to one of the most annoying tropes that could have possibly been picked, and it went down to 3 stars. Then something happened that I found clever and thought I may have to reread the book to see if I missed something and it went back to a 4. The book then tried to subvert expectations, undid the fairly clever thing one page later and went down to 2 stars. It stayed at that rating until I was almost done writing this review, realized that my fingers were practically hitting the keys on the keyboard and lowered it to a 1 out of emotion rather than taking any of the positive aspects into account.

The idea of this story is so clever, that I really wanted to absolutely love this… but seemingly at every turn it tried to alienate me. It annoyed me thoroughly around the half way point, but the frustrating thing is that I can’t tell people the book is terrible, because it is well written and I’m sure some people WILL like the direction it went, just not me. I finished it more out of an annoyed stubbornness than actually wanting to see the end. To say more would be spoilers, so consider that my review unless you want details. If that’s the case, you can stop speculating and learn the horrible truth below.

In closing, the book started off showing a fascinating world and managed to be amazing for the first half. After that things rapidly go down hill. I don’t know if the plan is for there to be a sequel about the city, but after all that, I don’t even care. 1/5 stars.
Profile Image for Lark Benobi.
Author 1 book1,718 followers
February 18, 2019
Let it be known that I loved this novel. It kept making me happier and happier. Instead of the cranky nihilism I've come to expect from dystopian novels, this novel instead evolves into a lovely fatalism. I loved that love wins, if in an extreme sort of way.

But what a pretzel of a book! At first it fooled me into thinking it was some kind of futuristic police procedural, and then a thriller, and then a story of conspiracy about the evil state…and then? Well. The novel just transforms itself into something wonderful and new. Something that filled me with joy.

Golden State not only plays with what is true/what is reality, but also, more fundamentally, what makes life worth living. In the end it becomes a paean to the simplest joys of life. The joy, for instance, of finally realizing that you're in charge of your own life story. The joy of family, no matter how broken your family is. The joy of stupid fun. The joy of wasting things. The joy of keeping secrets. The joy of pretending.

So right about here in my review, to be honest, I'm a little nervous about why no other reviews are talking about the aspects of Golden State that I found so profound and so meaningful. But the novel is also one of the best fake-out novels I've ever read, so much so that reviewers at Kirkus and The Washington Post and NPR seem to have been faked out completely by the novel's subversion of expectations. The WaPo reviewer is particularly grumpy that the last third of the novel, because rather than following the norms of a genre-dystopian-police-procedural, it evolves instead into a moving exploration of what makes life worth living; of what makes us human. Sorry to disappoint you, WaPo reviewer. This novel went in a different direction from your expectation.

As you read it though you may discover yourself getting similarly cranky when the book doesn't conform to your expectation--for instance what the heck are these interstitial, poorly-written, san-serif chapters doing there?--but my advice is to just let go of every expectation. See where the novel leads you.
Profile Image for Andrew Smith.
1,033 reviews564 followers
December 28, 2019
It’s not clear when it happened or what happened, but it was BIG. Now nobody talks about it, in fact everything before has been erased: there are no documents, there is no known history. This new world, in the same place as the old world, has rules that preclude lots of things and knowledge of the past is one of them. But the biggest sin is to lie, to lie about anything. To disobey this edict can result in serious jail time.

The place is called the Golden State and it’s what used to be California, or at least part of it, and it’s easy to recognise the centre in which most of this story plays out as Los Angeles. We see events through the eyes of Laszlo Ratesic. He’s a big guy with a gift: he can sense when people are not telling the truth. Laszlo job is to use this gift as part of the law enforcement team. There are cameras everywhere too – and I mean everywhere. Everything is recorded and each individual is compelled to document every interaction with people they come into contact with. Nothing is secret from the State.

It’s in this claustrophobic environment that we first encounter Laszlo as he addresses a minor lie he identifies whilst having breakfast at a restaurant. For this innocuous fib a young man will most likely serve a five-year sentence. They don’t mess around here! But soon Laszlo is called to the scene of what looks to be an accidental death: a man has fallen off a roof in what is most likely a simple working accident. But is it? From this point the story spreads out and we meet various characters including some of Ratesic’s colleagues, his ex-wife and various people loosely connected with the death. We will now see in more detail how things work in this new world.

It’s an interesting construction and I was drawn deeply into the story in the first third of the book. Laszlo is an unhappy man: haunted by the death of his brother (a fellow law officer, who also had ‘the gift’) and his estrangement from the love of his life. And he’s started to wonder about what came before the Golden State. But for a while book then seemed to struggle to balance time spent on resolving the mystery of the dead man versus the bigger picture of what the hell was going on in this place and how did we get here in the first place. I was impatient for the second element to be addressed. But in the final third the book delivered its big punches and supplied a satisfying (if not wholly surprising) finale.

I’m a little stuck between awarding four stars or five, but I’m going to settle of four simply because the midsection of the book dragged a little for me. But I do admire the invention and imagination employed here – and I might come back and upgrade my rating once I’ve spent a little longer reflecting on this thought-provoking tale.

My sincere thanks to Random House UK, Cornerstone and NetGalley for providing a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Blake Crouch.
Author 77 books44.5k followers
December 14, 2018
Golden State is a prescient, devastating commentary on humanity's disintegrating attachment to reality and truth, expertly told through the prism of a police-procedural, dystopian nightmare. Winters has written a 1984 for the 21st century. Not just a thrilling book, but an important one.
Profile Image for Jenna ❤ ❀  ❤.
765 reviews1,142 followers
October 1, 2019
“They say the real truth is that there is no such thing as truth at all, there’s only perception."

According to a 2002 study conducted by the University of Massachusetts, 60% of adults can’t have a ten minute conversation without lying at least once. Even people who state that they never lie find they indeed do so, when recordings are played back to them. So what would a world without lies be like, a world where it is illegal to tell even so much as a little harmless white lie?

In Ben H. Winters' Golden State, a new nation has been formed in which it is illegal to lie. Fed up with lying politicians and untruths in the media, the founders of Golden State create a state where people are under constant surveillance in order that no one can get away with telling a lie. Every conversation is recorded and cameras are everywhere, preserving images of where people go and what they do. In this way, history can always be played back when there is any question of whether someone is telling the truth or not.

Our MC Lazlo is an enforcer of this truth law, the Objectively So. He is able to detect when people are lying by seeing wavers in the air and picking up odors. He is dedicated to his job, committed to ensuring that nothing but the truth is ever told. However, Lazlo comes to realise that truth is subjective, indeed, often there is no one truth. As he embarks on a new case to find a murderer, Lazlo struggles with the implications that there is no such thing as absolute truth even in this fact-obsessed society in which he lives. The lies he uncovers along the way shocks him to his very core, dismantling the entire foundation on which he stands.

I really enjoyed this book though maybe not as much as Winters' The Last Policeman which i read earlier this month. It is an engaging read though some parts are predictable. Mr. Winters is one of those authors who is able to create characters you come to feel you know personally and begin to care about. I love his books for that reason, and he's an excellent storyteller too.

Golden State will make you think -- and make you wonder how many lies you actually tell. I loved how, in the book, people had to greet each other with factual statements such as, "“Good morning. Pi represents the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter.” It made me think of how we often greet people, even those we don't know, with "Hi, how are you?" and then the other responds, "Fine and you?" all whilst we really don't care to get an honest answer, nor do we expect one. When someone (other than someone we know well perhaps) answers, "Not so well" we are take aback and unsure what to say. It would be more honest if we instead greeted people by saying, "Hello, there are 24 hours in a day.", and yet, that wouldn't feel quite so friendly. I might just try it sometime for laughs though, to see what kind of strange looks I get!

If you enjoy dystopia, you should give this book a try. It's not an action-packed read, though there is action. It meanders at times and is introspective. These are the kinds of books I love, books that make me think and that really get me inside someone else's head!
Profile Image for Matt.
34 reviews48 followers
February 5, 2019
Sometimes a book sits with you to the point that you can’t stop thinking about it. Golden State won’t be for everyone, but it’s one of those books that leave the reader thinking. I like books that question reality and what reality means. In today’s world that’s more important than ever. With news being flung around at a frantic pace without fact-checking, we are susceptible to misinformation. This book imagines what it would be like if lying were against the law. Ben Winters crafts an intriguing detective story set in a compelling dystopian universe.

Lazlo Ratesic is a downtrodden detective that works for an organization called The Speculative Service. In a society where telling a lie will send you to exile, their job is to get the truth. Lazlo gets paired with an ambitious sidekick named Aysa Paige, an ambitious newcomer to the Speculative Service. Lazlo and Aysa have to investigate a man falling off of a roof. At first, it seems to be an open and shut case, but as they start investigating they travel down a rabbit hole that will have them questioning their truths and realities.

Winters does a great job of making this a detective story at its core. Detective novel connoisseurs will appreciate the similarities between Lazlo and the likes of Sam Spade. The interactions between Ratesic and Paige are entertaining. Ratesic is one of those characters that prefer to go solo in life. He’s a seasoned veteran, not wanting any complications. Paige, on the other hand, is an ambitious newcomer and wants Lazlo to show her the ropes.

Golden State is shelved mostly as a dystopian sci-fi book, but, in order to enjoy this book, you’ll have to appreciate detective novels and how they work. The dystopian elements are essential to the story and the ending, but it is still a detective novel at its core. I suspect that the ending of this book will be talked about at length. It’s one of those endings that readers will either love or hate. I found closure in the ending and it will stick with me for a while.
Profile Image for Emma.
971 reviews966 followers
November 20, 2018
This started out well enough but turned into a goddamn mess by the end.

Mr Laszlo Ratesic is a Speculator tasked with searching out liars. It's something more than just an instinct, he can feel the sickening nature equivocations, half truths, avoidances, and outright fabrications all around him. When a man falls to his death from the roof of a house, there seems like there may be more to the story than meets the eye, and with his fresh faced new parter in tow, he is drawn into the kind of conspiracy that could threaten not only their lives, but the foundations of the whole State.

So what we initially have is a noir style piece of detective fiction set in a dystopian future, the dour main character and his young, female, black partner who needs to be shown the ropes ticking every conventional box. Except this is a world where everything is recorded and archived, every moment documented so it can all factor in to the Objectively So, things KNOWN to be true because see...the evidence is right here... In a period when definitions of truth and lies are blurred beyond all recognition, it is, at first, easy to see how such a concept could acquire legitimacy and power. Yet extremes such as this never work out quite as planned and as the investigation progresses, the glaring holes in the system are revealed, as are the ways in which it might be manipulated. The world building is creative, detailed, and thorough, each point thought through to its ultimate conclusion. Cleverly, the author reels the reader in with the seemingly innocuous rules and ideas, things which feel like they might be a good idea, before plunging the readers in to the darker depths of where such paths will (inevitably??) lead. Cool idea, good execution. Happiness all round.

At the start, Laz is somewhat difficult to get behind as a narrator but nevertheless is a fully fleshed out and understandable character, while those around him are less so. If the book had remained a murder mystery/conspiracy style investigation, I think I would have been satisfied with his progression from inflexible jobsworth to someone more open minded and empathic. His tentative steps away from the rigidity of his job, his acceptance of his failures in the past, and his slow, often faltering comprehension that he may not truly understand the world around him are some of the author's best work, ranging from moving to pretty funny. Instead, his part in plot (and actually the narrative as a whole) gets increasingly unlikely until there comes a moment so out of left field that it arrives from beyond the furthest reaches of said field and lands like a wet shit. Speculative fiction has a lot of leeway to challenge the reader but rarely do authors WTF me out of a novel so hard as this one did. Nope.

ARC via Netgalley

Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 5 books3,907 followers
December 20, 2018
I'm always a BIG fan of science fiction that girds its loins in the heaviest armor and strides boldly into the darkest, most complicated territories. The more ambitious the novel, the more props I am absolutely forced to give it. :) Of course, it has to also blow me away, but the core courage and not just good writing has to shine through for me to WOOOOOOOO!!!! ;)

It's easy enough to say this is a panopticon where every last bit of our modern lives in this future Utopian California resembles 1984, but it's closer to say it's a slightly different take on The City & the City. Where the other novel is focused on keeping a lie going that separates two overlapping worlds, Winter's police drama is focused on the deeply ironic law that places Truth on the highest pedestal. It's ironic because while all falsehoods are immediately found out and punished thanks to the uber-surveillance State, the Golden State's history is shrouded in mystery. And fiction is utterly subversive despite the deeper truths within it.

White lies carry heavy sentences. Acting is an unheard-of crime.

We follow an old cop whose job is to ferret out lies and watch as his world unravels before him. The mysteries are well-thought out and a perfect foil for the premise. I totally enjoyed the traditional mystery aspects as much as the hardcore social SF.

So is this just another Big Idea dystopian in utopian colors? It might seem that way, but Winters pulls off one hell of a great and *important* read without treading on any other novel's toes. :) No re-hash.

This is about taking on TRUTH head-on. :) Well worth the read!
Profile Image for Emma.
2,392 reviews821 followers
November 17, 2018
This was really good! I’d never heard of this author before but was granted an ARC of this book from Netgalley. It is a commentary on truth- is there such a thing as absolute truth? Can it be determined through a society where everything is documented and recorded? Does everyone live by the same rules or are some exempt? How fear of the unknown can imprison us. Excellent read!
Profile Image for Joe Valdez.
477 reviews786 followers
December 23, 2022
My introduction to the fiction of Ben H. Winters is Golden State. On one hand, I picked this up at the library after many novels ahead of it on my reading docket weren't available and neither were titles by Winters that sounded more compelling: The Last Policeman and Underground Airlines. On the other hand, that means I opened it with zero expectations. I gave Winters five chapters and 60 pages before abandoning this. I've quit more novels lately than I'd like to, but this one is the dullest, laziest, most woefully unable or unwilling to justify its sorry existence of the lot.

The story, as far as I can tell a fifth of the way through, involves Laszlo Ratesic, veteran of the Speculative Services in a Los Angeles. Ratesic and others like him use their extrasensory gifts to detect lies the way a pig sniffs out truffles. The state promptly imprisons anyone busted telling a fib. Ratesic, like every cop in every other bad cop movie you've seen, works alone, so of course, his captain assigns him a rookie partner, a young woman named Aysa Paige. Ratesic condescends to and berates Aysa so harshly in public that even the mad men at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce would ask what the fuck is wrong with this guy.

The case that the two Speculative Service detectives catch involves a roofer who falls to his death while repairing some tiles on a mansion. Accidental death, of course, until Ratesic discovers that their subject wasn't scheduled to work today. Is there a liar on the loose? Perhaps a killer? Will Ratesic stop treating his young female partner like Harvey Weinstein has been forgotten in the time of this novel? Apparently, Golden State has gone authoritarian due to an erosion of truth in government and public life. Those wacky liberals! See what banning soft drinks started?

Maybe you'll enjoy this novel more than I did. Here are the first three paragraphs of Chapter 1, the author's spot and also responsibility to do his or her best writing and hook me:

Somebody's telling lies in here, and it's making it hard to eat.

In a perfect world, a man should be able to sit down at a favorite spot and eat his breakfast without the weight of professional obligation coming down on him, ruining his morning, pulling him right into the thick of it before he can so much as get a good hot sip of coffee.

But the world has never been accused of being perfect, has it, and so here we are and here is what actually happens--here is reality. No sooner has Honey the waitress slid my steaming breakfast plate down in front of me, right next to a piping-hot cup of mountain-grown, than I catch a small dissonance in the air--the barest ripple, the softest whisper--but it can't be ignored. My body won't let me ignore it. The burble catches in my throat, my eyes prick with tears, and I put down my fork and say "Shit."

Ugh. Where to begin?

I found the conceit of psychic cops cluttered up what seems like a dystopian novel. Either idea would've offered plenty to explore in a book this pithy, but together, they clog the narrative up. Ratesic is the first-person narrator and this is also a problem. He's an insufferable, ill-mannered, foul-mouthed, redheaded brute, bullying his new partner past the point I wanted to spend any time with him. And pricks and psychic ability don't really mix well together. When was the last movie you saw about a character with a sixth sense who walked around acting like a jerk? It's just off.

I didn't find the conceit of a society that has outlawed lying to be compelling either. Ratesic roots out a lie in the diner, where a woman's grown son is lying about stealing her medication. Ratesic has him arrested with a six to nine year prison term dangling in front of the boy. So not only is our narrator a prick, but he's boring. The prose is sloppy, the dialogue lazy, plotting weak. I'm not even going to bother analyzing the political sensibilities of Winters, whether this is a parable about fascism or daffy liberalism run amok. It's such a light, hastily written and poorly imagined effort that I could really care less.

Word count: 92,587 words (seems more like 70,000 words but my word counting app says different)
Profile Image for Liz Barnsley.
3,402 reviews988 followers
September 30, 2018
I’m the BIGGEST fan of The Last Policeman trilogy so to say I was excited to read “Golden State” would be a serious understatement.
It didn’t disappoint- this is a hugely relevant speculative tale, but also a massively entertaining piece of fiction that had me banging through it in record time…
Laz is brilliant, so engaging, living in the shadow of his legendary brother, one of the few people tasked with keeping the record quite literally straight as he senses lies in the air around him.
The world Ben Winters builds here is utterly fascinating. Everyone is watched, recorded, logged 24/7. People open conversations by quoting verifiable facts at each other, a lie is illegal and the harshest punishment is exile into a world before that no longer exists. There are too many layers to this inventive, totally believable place to get them all across in a simple review but it is pretty much the opposite of how we live now.
We learn all this through the eyes of Laz, who is an utter believer in the system and it’s protection of citizens. Indeed this is a world you may nod along with, reasonably convinced through the power of this character that it is absolutely justified and right. It took me a while to find an issue with it…
Then a man falls from a roof, there are definitely anomalies, Laz is thrown together with a new partner and together they will uncover something more than the truth…and his world will change forever.
This was beautifully twisted in its mystery elements and throws up so many thought provoking moral quandaries your head will spin. That’s quite apart from the twists of plot that are so often unexpected, there’s no predicting the outcome of this one although you might think so – and even if there was, speculation is illegal don’t you know unless you are authorised…
I loved it. Quirky, clever and very timely, I will state that “Objectively So” Golden State is a truly excellent piece of storytelling.
Highly Recommended.
Profile Image for Gabby.
1,198 reviews26k followers
January 28, 2019
This was a strange book that progressively got more strange as I got closer to the end. This is a dystopian novel about a futuristic California where there are police who detect lies, and lying causes you to go to prison (or even worse, face execution.) I’m not a huge fan of dystopians but this one sounded interesting, and it is very similar to Fahrenheit 451 as the description claims.

I was really invested in the beginning of this story, it’s very thought provoking and it has a lot to say about how do we know what’s really true in our world, and in our terrible political climate lately - this shows us what a world of absolute truth would look like. I was invested in the mystery building around this mans death that forces the main character to question everything he thought he know about truth and speculation.

This was really interesting, but part 2 started to get very confusing and strange and I lost interest in this story. I feel like the ending really dropped the ball on what was otherwise a very interesting premise.
Profile Image for Emily B.
424 reviews417 followers
January 30, 2021
I didn’t not enjoy this book very much at all which was disappointing.

It didn’t make enough sense and not enough was explained. It was hard to follow at times. I’m still not sure how it all connects and even why some characters were present and what exactly they added to the plot. It all felt like a bit of a mess
Profile Image for Ace.
430 reviews23 followers
January 29, 2019
4 stars

Another great read by science fiction novelist Ben H. Winters. This had all the elements of a dystopian novel, fear and hope under new systems of belief and justice and the establishment of a new normal. With hints of 1984 and a touch of supernatural, main protagonist Lazlo Ratesic can sniff out a lie in a noisy and crowded café, and lies are just not on in the Golden State.

As far as mystery’s go, this one had me guessing all the way with its current story arc and the flashbacks to Lazlo’s big brother Charlie who was the supreme ‘Speculator’ and hero of the State.

I really enjoy this author and I very much liked Underground Airlines, which was released in 2017. I must add some of his back catalogue to my reading list and I look forward to what he comes up with in his next book.

Thank you to Random House UK, Cornerstone and NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review this book.
Profile Image for Julie.
161 reviews26 followers
October 3, 2019
"They are librarians, and they do not fuck around." This is one of my favorite lines in this novel. I'll leave out the context so I don't spoil it for you, but I will say that everyone's permanent record is taken very seriously in this tale.

I liked this novel very much. It had enough twists and turns to keep my interest. Toward the end, it was a real page turner. It was a thoughtful dystopian tale with lots of layers. In reality, all of us buy into the world order we are sold and anyone going rogue gets punished. This strange world the author writes about is not much different than our world except that it demands no one lie and that everyone keep a truthful record of each day. The story is very "1984" but with a lot more paperwork.

While it is a futuristic novel, it had a good old-fashioned who dunnit mystery at its core. How it is handled is different, but the novel is grounded in a context that we recognize as a detective drama. But much more interesting and with far more layers. If I had to give it a genre, I would call it noir-sci-fi.

While it's hard to imagine a world without lies, that's exactly the utopia the author invites us into. A utopia that is set in the future, but feels very much based on current events. It's hard to imagine the author wasn't inspired by all the "alternative facts" hurled by the current administration, including the fake news moniker given to all truthful reporting.

This novel has "The Handmaids Tale" kind of vibe minus the misogyny. That was interesting actually, to read a novel without misogyny. A world hellbent on protecting the truth has the same hallmarks as the misogyny in Atwood's novel. The desperation and dogma are just as palpable.

I've read one other novel by this author (Underground Airlines), a futuristic novel that asked what if slavery hadn't ended. There was a big hoopla over the author being a white guy. I like that he didn't let that stop him because we all need to be at the table when it comes to our history, and prejudice is pervasive throughout. The word on the street is that the creators of the HBO series "Game of Thrones" have picked Winters slave tale as their next project to produce for HBO. It's a good choice. Winters knows how to build tension in a dystopian thriller and most importantly he knows how to end a novel. That's so important as high-wire act type of stories are easy to start and play with, while ending them is not. Winters knows how to end a story, so I came in confident that he wouldn't leave me hanging with this one.

The story's introduction was intriguing, but I wasn't sure in which way when I first read it. Was it being strait laced or somewhat more enigmatic? Upon completing the first chapter, I was taken with what a perfect scene the author had drawn to let the reader know the world they had just stepped into. A world where lies are more punishable than stealing.

The novel is mostly in first person with some third person intermissions. A truth defending officer is the protagonist. His lot has special powers to discern when someone is lying. The protagonist has a very strong presence. One gets a deep sense of him early on. The way records are kept and how snippets from real life are reconstructed in this world were fascinating and rang true. It all seemed really grounded.

As the novel unfolds it brings to light how even facts can be used to hide the truth. Flat facts as they are called in this world, can be individually true but when piled together can serve to cover up a yawning darkness. This seems true when looking at history or the dogmas of politics and religion today.

When the protagonist finds a novel, like the one Winters wrote, we are told fiction is an artifact of a world that no longer exists. Novels are now stories about things that actually happened. So Shakespeare is contraband? That's a sobering thought. Especially since fiction is often better at getting its hands on the truth than nonfiction. Winters novel is proof of that.

The dogma of this world, while seemingly noble is still dogma. All dogma is unforgiving and brutal in the end. Even in the service of the truth, brutality can end up being the aim over and above what it seeks to serve. All revolutions, or most anyway, get lost in dogma and end up being something other than what was fought for. The ideal always seems to rot when fear and dogma take the wheel.

At one point in the novel the protagonist muses: Imagine if everyone did it. Imagine if each person was allowed the luxury of claiming their own truth, building a reality of their own in which they can live. Imagine the danger that would pose, how quickly those lies would metastasize the extraordinary threat that would pose to the world.

Now, in light of the current administration and their over-the-top lies about anything and everything, the protagonist's point is one to consider.

As the protagonist weaves through the story, the plot gets wicked thick. There is a courtroom scene with a mad woman that was riveting. It seems there is no room in this world for the mentally ill. In this world, any break from reality is considered a lie. A lie punishable by good old fashioned banishment.

From here, the plot thickens and thickens and thickens until it's hard to stir anymore. A very stiff plot. The facts in this world are just as cagey as the lies of our world.

The novel asks which is more dangerous in the long run: lies or dogma? It seems that dogma and censorship are more damning. And nothing is more dogmatic than to state something as true and then to describe anything that disagrees with that truth as blasphemous.

One has to wonder if a shared reality is even a thing that is possible or if it's rather some holy grail that will never be found, but nonetheless leaves a high body count. Who gets to decide the truth? Is it all just make-believe any time everyone is on the same page?

It seems likely that most of what we take to be true today may be seen as false years from now. Many people today believe in different truths. How do you decipher one truth from another? Or is deciphering just another word for deception in this context?

There is something poetic in the second part of the novel when it states: Our desire to know the whole truth is what makes us human. Our understanding that it can't be known is what keeps us alive.

There is truth to this statement in that none of us will ever know the whole truth in our lifetime. Even knowing who we are is a tough gig. That we think we can understand anyone or anything else completely is cute. It's what makes us human. There will always be moments of betrayal where our innermost truth sits in uneasy disagreement with the agreed upon truth of the world.

Toward the end, there are some great twists that fit with what we know, but are still surprising. It gives the novel a real James Bond vibe, but not formulaic. Just epic and mysterious and treacherous. There is a humorous and poignant bit about a food truck.

Like most futuristic novels, it allows the reader to see the cracks in their own world order. Only when one steps outside to see their world through the eyes of a space alien can one see the cracks. There has never been a better time to read this novel. It's for both fake news lobbers and truth thirsty sobbers. It nails both and we should all be glad that it does.

As far as style, the novel was clean and tight and I have little to critique there as it was done so well I barely thought about the author while reading it. This is the highest compliment I can give.
Profile Image for Tom Quinn.
535 reviews138 followers
September 15, 2021
"Imagine if everyone did it. Imagine if each person was allowed the luxury of claiming their own truth, building a reality of their own in which they can live. Imagine the danger that would pose, how quickly those lies would metastasize, and the extraordinary threat that would pose to the world." (118)

A rather more clever premise than average, and a rather more melodramatic delivery as well.

3.5 stars. It's a fast-paced ride with some interesting freshman-level philosophy that adds more substance to an already pretty good hardboiled detective type of story.
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,037 followers
February 22, 2020
I have made the call - Ben H. Winters is the Philip K. Dick of our generation. The way he expands an idea into a novel (in Golden State - an alternate/future California ruled by absolute truth) and the flawed characters that you root for anyway, but also that sense of maybe the ending could have been stronger. Winters redeemed the messy ending for me with clever and funny moments throughout. This was another read from the Tournament of Books and I listened in Audible.
Profile Image for Bridget Jack Jeffries.
127 reviews3 followers
February 1, 2019
I can’t even with the terribleness that was this book. This is what really bad 1984 / Fahrenheit 451 fan fiction looks like. This book was a hot mess, the Lindsay Lohan of sci-fi books.

The Golden State is about a dystopian society, established somewhere in California, centered around belief in the Objectively So. This society is dependent on members of the Speculative Service, a police-like force whose members have a sixth sense for detecting lies. That they actually have this power is demonstrated fairly early in the novel, when SS member Laszlo Ratesic is eating breakfast in a crowded, noisy diner and is able to sense a fairly innocuous series of lies that a young man is telling his mother all the way across the diner. The penalty for lying is steep; the young man is told he’ll serve 7-8 years in prison for his crimes.

This isn’t the only power that SS members have. They supposedly have the ability to “speculate,” i. e. mystically determine different possibilities given known facts. They are supposed to use this power selectively, since it amounts to constructing lies in an effort to smoke out the truth.

The Golden State has other ways of keeping tabs on reality. “Captures” (cameras) are everywhere. People are required to keep “day books” and exchange receipts with each other when they interact. And certain portions of reality can be reconstructed given other existing facts.

Sounds really cool, right?

Trust me, it’s not.

Let’s start with Laszlo himself, who’s such a dislikable protagonist that I frequently found myself wanting to stuff his “pinhole” into his mouth. He’s smarmy, overbearing, arrogant, and an all-around jackass. Sure, he softens by the end, when he realizes what a jackass he’s been, but there’s no payoff for the audience since we knew that from the start.

Then there’s the “Speculator” powers world-building, which makes absolutely zero sense by the end of the novel. The actual process of “speculating” is clear as mud, so there’s that. Then the plot involves numerous characters telling huge whoppers of lies, and while I realize that some truths can be oblique, these figures are lying in ways that can only be “objectively so.” I mean, “that depends on what your definition of ‘is’ is” level lies. Yet their lies go undetected by Laszlo’s powers (and he even absorbs some of them into his own reality). Other characters are able to fake captures (yet how they can do this is never explained). Most parts of the world-building are just confusing and hard to understand.

And then there is the ending, which is infuriating. The main character pretty much just walks away from the entire plot, leaving the Golden State to feud with its clandestine insurgents. Little is explained or resolved. And don’t tell me that it’s because there’s going to be another book and this is just #1 of a series. That’s a cop-out for poor writing. It’s okay to leave some things unresolved for a first book in a series, but not pretty much the whole damn book. There still has to be some kind of payoff to make the audience want to continue the second book in the series, and there isn’t here.

This was my January 2019 Book of the Month Club selection, and it’s only the 3rd book in my lifetime that I’ve given 1 star to. This book was Objectively So Terrible.

Book of the Month Club, you have failed this city.
Profile Image for Neale .
285 reviews125 followers
January 30, 2020
This novel is shortlisted for the 2020 ToB.

4,5 Stars!

The Golden State is a state in which everything is recorded and when I say everything, I literally mean everything. Devices called “captures” are installed everywhere you could possibly imagine. On a ceiling fan, on a fridge. Outside on trees, street signs. They are everywhere and they record everything.

However, these devices are not the only means of recording. Every citizen of the Golden State keeps a record of everything they do through the day. A physical record in the form of a book or journal in which their whole life, every minute is recorded. These accounts are stamped or verified by other people to make sure they are true and accurate.

What is the point of all this recording? To provide proof, evidence of lies or untruths. In the Golden State it is illegal to lie. A crime that comes not only with a prison sentence, but, depending on the severity, exile.

The actual point of all the recording is to provide proof of reality. If something is not recorded, if there is no evidence or recording of a fact, then how can it be said to be a reality. Is this a Utopian state or a Dystopian state? Anything that is not true is a lie, there is no nuance. Citizens of the Golden State believe that to live in an unrecorded world is to untether oneself from reality. Existence in the Golden State is binary, truth or not, and it’s the job of the protagonist of this novel to uncover the not. Discover any anomalies with the truth.

Even with all this recording taking place it would still be impossible to catch every lie and that is where our protagonist comes in. Ratesic is a Speculator. He is a member of a special branch of the authorities who by an unknown process can “sense” when somebody is lying. He sees a shimmer, a movement in the air, a shift, when somebody is lying.

When Ratesic makes a mistake and senses a lie, that later seems not to be a lie, there are repercussions that could destroy the Golden State itself. If a Speculator has been found to sense a lie where there is in fact none, then their credibility is not just at stake, it is effectively destroyed. Then like a ripple in a pond the repercussions will reverberate through the whole system. One mistaken lie will throw the whole system into chaos and inevitably destruction.

One must wonder at the quality of life in the Golden State. People greet each other with proven facts. One may say, “two plus two is four”, to which the other will reply “ten minus five is five”. Every time the clock strikes the hour people turn to each other verifying that the hour is indeed true and correct. There are no fictional novels or films because they are not true.

I don’t think that anybody will miss the drone fired missile aimed directly at Trump and his fake news stories here. It almost feels like Winters is saying to Trump that the Golden State is an existence where there is no fake news and if there is it is quickly dealt with.

This novel fits like a hand in glove with the “fake news” era we are in! 4.5 Stars.

Here is a link to an interview with Winters from wired.com - https://www.collinsbookblog.com/post/...
Profile Image for David.
650 reviews301 followers
February 28, 2019
It's just such a delicious writerly challenge. You envision some future world - a seemingly benign surveillance state where everything is on video, where everyone records the facts of their days and lives entirely by truth. Where lies are punishable by law and enforced by Speculators that can sense lies in the very air. Where even fiction is banned and TV shows are just curated recordings of actual surveilled events. Now, how does one get away with murder in this world?

And there is this joyful sense of satire as you begin in this fictional place built on truth inspired by Winter's new understanding of our current real world after watching the swirling alternate facts reality of Trump's inauguration. Fun! And Winters is a smooth writer, taking us through this police procedural in a skewed dystopia without getting too mired in the world-building. But he wants his cake and to eat it too.

Talking about it with people smarter than me who noticed the presence of white lies in this world and the grey area of hyperbolic advertising claims. Magicians are allowed but how does science even progress if theorizing is a form of lying? Even our own speculator is guilty of lying. Nitpicking sure and I'm more than willing to suspend my disbelief for the sake of a good story but Winters just can't stick the landing. It feels rushed and hand-wavy instead of earned. Winters tees up some interesting aspects but finds himself scrambling in the rough at the end.
Profile Image for Jerrie.
985 reviews127 followers
January 24, 2020
Was this great literature? No way. Was it exceedingly entertaining and readable? Heck yeah! Meant to be a social commentary on our current state of willful deception by politicians, influencers, and the media, this is set in a dystopian society where lies are the ultimate crime. Unfortunately, this means that anything in the official record is accepted as truth. The main character was great, but the book didn’t quite deliver in the end.
Profile Image for Ramona.
304 reviews57 followers
March 11, 2019
Wow. As I reading this my mind kept thinking - what rating will I give it! A solid 4 stars? A bit higher? Lower? Because as I was reading it my opinion kept bouncing around. I loved it. I hated it. It made me mad. It confused me, and then it sort of all made sense.

I am long time fan of the classic Twilight Zone series and I really felt like all this needed was a Rod Serling intro and it could sit nicely with some of the mind bending favorites of the series.

Golden State is Golden because it is true. Truth spoken. Lying is more punishable than most other crimes. People exiled if they don’t speak perfect truth. Gifted police can “sense” if one is lying.
Fictional books are banned, as well as TV or movies that are anything but reality clips. The author had created a brilliant scenario that had me also dipping into my 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 reading experience.

Two Special Speculator ( lie detector officers ) find themselves at the scene of what looks to be a straightforward accident. A man falls off a roof, and is killed. But their senses are perked, and it seems there may be more going on than what meets the eye. With closed capture recordings and daily logs of interactions available on demand this should be a place where finding the truth is easy- but it isn’t.

There is enough detective work to keep you guessing and enough dystopian controls of society to keep your mind spinning complete with an ending that will no doubt keep book clubs arguing late past there slotted time. Language throughout- so if that bothers you go in warned, but ultimately this book just wriggled into my brain and sort of haunted me while I read it. It would make an excellent movie, and makes me wish we had the modern day Rod Serling to bring it to life. Honestly, 5 stars for this unexpected strange and unforgettable world.

(This was my 2019 publication pick for my century of books challenge)
Profile Image for Doug.
1,932 reviews667 followers
March 3, 2019
2.5, rounded up.

I'm not quite sure why I didn't cotton to this more than I did - it should have been right up my alley, but I was left more or less ambivalent. It took me an absurdly long time to get into it (three days to get through the first 70 pages), but then it picked up, and I found myself reading it quickly, but more just to get done with it than with any real enthusiasm. It's kind of a strange amalgamation of J G Ballard/Philip K. Dick rewriting the noir detective fiction of Cain/Hammett/Chandler. The writing itself isn't bad, but I found the whole premise too absurd, and the 'point' was made early on, and I felt it just kept repeating the same tropes. I couldn't keep any but the major characters straight (it didn't help that most of them begin with an A: Aysa, Arlo, Alvaro, Ailey), and it seemed like things were constantly, but arbitrarily, suddenly something other than initially presented, in a 'gotcha' style I found annoying.
Profile Image for Lisa Wolf.
1,606 reviews173 followers
February 18, 2019
Golden State is a weird mind-f*ck of a novel, and that's what makes it so wonderful. In a society where adherence to the Objectively So is the primary goal, the crime of telling a lie can lead to lengthy imprisonment or even exile, a fate assumed to be equivalent to death. Law enforcement agents like Lazlo can feel when a lie has been told, and their ability to sense anomalies leads them in pursuit of those who attempt to subvert the State with their untruths. People greet each other on the street by stating absolute facts ("A cow has four stomachs." "A person has one."), and the ringing of clock bells leads to streams of statements about the time, hour after hour after hour.

With a noir vibe that freely mixes in the sensibilities of Fahrenheit 451 and Blade Runner, Golden State is a treat to read. I wanted to stop to highlight passages practically everywhere -- there's so much clever wordplay and inversion of our understanding of what things mean. It's a great read, highly recommended. Now I need to get back to the other books on my shelves by this author, because I'm pretty sure I'm going to love them.

Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley. Full review at Bookshelf Fantasies.
Profile Image for Cindy Burnett (Thoughts from a Page).
556 reviews973 followers
September 29, 2018
Golden State takes place in a futuristic society that values truth above all else. Both the title of the book and the locale bear the name Golden State, a nation that occupies portions of present-day California. Golden State is a closed place created when the spreading of lies became so widespread that the former society could no longer exist. In this new world, truth is valued above all else to the point that citizens are under constant surveillance, much of their lives are recorded, and those who do not abide by the rules face banishment to an area outside of Golden State. Laszlo Ratesic works for the Speculative Service, an agency whose employees are the few allowed to “speculate” on what might have occurred at crimes without supporting records. Soon after the story begins, Ratesic is sent to the scene of a crime as a Speculator to determine what occurred. As he learns more about the events and the individuals involved, he begins to believe that someone is working to undermine the core beliefs of the Golden State while he also starts questioning whether the society’s dogmatic approach to truth has created more problems than it solves.

Winters constructs an elaborately complex and thought-provoking novel with authentic and well-developed characters. He includes numerous twists and turns that lead the tale down various paths that may surprise readers who believe they have figured out Laszlo’s fate. Most of the book was gripping, and I found myself unable to put it down. However, toward the end the tale veered off in an unexpected and somewhat bizarre direction that left me less enamored with the story. Until then, I would have given it 5 stars; however, the last portion of the book was so different that I felt like I had been dropped into another story entirely, which confused and annoyed me.

In today’s disturbing and hostile political environment, truth has taken a hit. The internet provides a rapid way to disseminate information and as a result to often allow the spread of untruths. As our society strives to rectify this issue, Golden State provides one example of an extreme solution and its results.

Overall, I was fascinated with Golden State and Winters’ futuristic society; I was disappointed in the ending but still feel it is worth reading.
Profile Image for Roman Clodia.
2,392 reviews2,375 followers
December 14, 2018
There are some thought-provoking ideas on display here as Winters creates a world that is based on a dystopian California where to lie is outlawed and where the whole state apparatus is geared to creating, demonstrating and validating a single and allegedly provable and objective truth and reality. Fiction no longer exists and the term 'novel' has been re-engineered to mean truthful story or history.

The problem is, I immediately started questioning a) how this could have come about, b) how human nature could be somehow distorted to eradicate our natural penchant for story-telling, and c) how the state has suppressed subjectivity. None of these issues were fully addressed and so the protagonist's journey towards asking questions about the desirability of his world had already been pre-empted by my own and it's a long haul as he catches up.

To a large extent, this follows the formula for dystopia: what looks workable on the surface reveals chilling truths that underpin the superficial status quo, there are power conspiracies and a resistance group...

So lots of interesting ideas, for sure, about truth and reality, fact vs. subjective or speculative thought, power and freedom - the story felt a bit longer than was warranted hence my 3-star rating: a tauter, leaner narrative would have held my interest more.

Thanks to Cornerstone for an ARC via NetGalley.
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