Review: Seb Doubinsky's Missing Signal
by Seb Doubinsky
Release: August 2018
"Was he an endless illusion or a limited materiality?"
Seb Doubinsky's Missing Signal is covertly a dystopian novel that is visibly (in its ending) part of a series. One need not have read any of the City-States series to find immersion in this newest installment whose crisp chapters cartwheel you in an incredible odyssey that gets wilder and weirder as it possesses you.
Together with a loneliness that is real as touch, but is also a ‘beautiful emptiness’, Terrence Kovacs is a man attuned with himself, self-aware in his deficits. For all his 57 aliases as a covert operations field agent, his is a world devoured in the kind of aloneness that drives one to the superficiality of night life:
"He decided the only women he could face tonight were strippers. At least you didn’t get to chat them up to get them naked. And your loneliness would remain intact all the way."
Going undercover to a UFO conference in his John Tammen persona—cobalt-eyed, masked behind horn-rimmed glasses, hair dyed silvery white like the ‘Moon King ’— Terrence’s curiosity is piqued when a mysterious Thomassen or Thomasen vanishes without a trace after the conference, is totally unfindable, only to abruptly re-emerge with a woman named Vita who already knows too much about Terrence, including his real name and all his aliases.
It could be that Terrence’s yawning lonesomeness explains his magnetic drawing to Vita, a woman whose incredibly black eyes remind him of those "Aztec obsidian knives they used in human sacrifices. Archaeologists said that the victims were willing. He understood why now as he walked towards the table, his mind full of white noise and interference."
A conspiracy begins to unfold.
With the novelty of brand new yet familiar cities like New Petersburg, New Belleville, New Moscow, New Babylon…there is good pace and rich characterisation in a story whose crisp chapters may well frustrate in another book, but herein work remarkably well in vignettes that offer insight into Terrence’s life, moment by moment.
Something about the novel abolishes distraction. Once you open the book, you are committed. No hard work, just a heart-thud moment, electricity, and you’re hooked. In its tiny chapters pulsing with voltage, the narrative leaves nothing short. The reading is like a golden egg hunt, literary gifts tucked away in findable nests. New Belleville… was a maze of transparencies and shadows. Scents in colours and warmth, a scent that reminds Terrence of his soul: dark blue and cold.
Missing Signal is full of suspense, something ominous lurking from the very onset. Out of the blue, a whole chapter exists in 19 words with its message of foreboding:
"The chance of being hit by lightning is 1 in 960,000. Which means there is always a chance. Always."
A few elements leave the reader questioning, like who is the omniscient narrator who appears without warning in italicised text? And what is the backstory in little Michael struck by lightning those many years ago? Perhaps they are stories already opulently covered in prior installments of Doubinsky’s Cities-States cycle. There is much narration at the onset, fascinating, but the reader starts craving pace, action, and it leaps in!
Near the end, the reader cannot help but wonder how the islands of conspiracy could attain totality, but they do. The narrative finishes on an edge, and the reader must suddenly clutch at what ground there is, lest they drop very steeply down a coast, or a precipice, likely a scene set for a sequel.
Doubinsky achieves a winsome speculative fiction that is also a convincing psychological thriller, and it leaves you with the right attitude: What is real? The unreal?
Pre-order now at Meerkat Press