Today let’s talk about Judges. This time, though, we’re not looking at the familiar world of Dredd and Mega-City 1. Today we’re stepping back into the past, before the final days of liberty in 2070 where the Judges took control from the politicians, before the Cursed Earth and the mutants and the Mega-Cities themselves.
We’re going back to the days of the first Judges as they try to establish their authority, dealing with civilians and police alike who aren’t sure what to make of them or whether or not they’re any better than the criminals they’ve been created to try to control. The transition hasn’t been smooth, with increases in violence, political protest and even one very public suicide in protest.
This is the politically charged atmosphere we find ourselves mired within in the novel Judges: The Avalanche by Michael Carroll. This is a look at social change in microcosm. Rather than focusing on the country as a whole this is an intimate little story following a group of Judges in small-town America, investigating the death of one of their own as they attempt to work with both the local police and the population of the town. Added to this we have another plot regarding a supplier of an illegal drug called “TranceTrance” and while some of the Judges work to investigate this, the rest busy themselves with the death of their colleague.
“He didn’t know whether he was supposed to say goodbye to the Judge: no one knew the rules yet.”
This was a book that left me with mixed feelings by the end of it. There was a lot it did right, but also some things that were…not so right. Looking at the positives, I enjoyed the interactions between the Judges and the local police, as well as the Governor; people who don’t seem to quite grasp that the concept of “due process” has died a quiet death on a back road somewhere. Probably after resisting arrest by a Judge.
“There is no going back, no reset button that’s going to fix everything. The life that you know now is almost gone. There will be no more lawyers, or cops, or—in time—politicians. Just Judges.”
I also liked seeing the descriptions of the original uniform which doesn’t seem as stylised as the one in Dredd’s time. No golden eagle on the shoulder yet, it’s more like the Karl Urban Dredd uniform, designed firstly to protect rather than make the Judges stand out as a symbol of authority. Also rather than riding the independently mobile and intelligent “Lawmaster” bikes, we have the far more mundane “Lawranger” instead (Lawranger, Lawmaster, Lawgiver. Is their nightstick called the Lawthumper?)
But by the end of the book I was left wanting more, which is both good and bad. I wanted more of this world, I wanted more of the political and social changes surrounding the Judge system, I wanted more of what was going on outside of this one little town. I also, frankly, wanted more story. The boss of the TranceTrance factory is introduced early on in the story and it’s intimated that he’s not afraid of the Judges, and not afraid to do whatever it takes to ensure nothing stands in his way.
And then his story just ends. Not with a bang. Not even an on-camera whimper. It just ends and we don’t even see the consequences, instead we get a sudden switcheroo with who our villain is that was so abrupt I had to go back and read it again just to make sure I hadn’t missed something. But no, no I hadn’t. In the dying moments of the story our focus shifts so hard I nearly had cognitive whiplash. I understand why this particular series of events had to happen, but we suddenly go from our drug dealer bad guy to… well, I’ll leave you to read it yourself and you can see. It reminded me of another author, Laurell K Hamilton, who has a very bad habit of setting up her villain, and then having their threat taken care of in two pages at the end of the book, or disposes of them off-camera. It’s just such an anti-climax.
All this said though, I would love to see more in this setting, more of the rest of the world and more of the political and social themes that help flesh out the Judges themselves. I know Michael Carroll has written other Judge books; I hope we get more following on from this one.