The Dark Intercept by Julia Keller science fiction book reviewsThe Dark Intercept by Julia Keller fantasy book reviewsThe Dark Intercept by Julia Keller

The Dark Intercept (2017) by Julia Keller is another teen dystopia, and while it has at its core an intriguing concept, bolstered by a few well written passages, overall it feels only partially thought through, with the reader skating too far out on the thin ice of weak characterization, flimsy world-building, and poor plotting, until finally falling through.

Sixteen-year-old Violet Crowley lives (say this in Trailer Guy voice, please) in a world that has been divided into the haves of New Earth, floating above the planet in a perfect community, and the have-nots of Old Earth, stuck on the pollution-ravaged, crime-ravaged, disease-ravaged, well, just ravaged former home to humanity. Violet is not just a resident of New Earth, she’s the daughter of its creator, Ogden Crowley. Beside the big split (“the rich and the brilliant go in one direction — up — and the poor and the ordinary stay where they are … fighting over the scraps and ashes and crumbs of a dying planet”), the other element that allows New Earth to be a near-paradise is the Intercept. This device “systematically captured and cataloged every flicker of every feeling, every stray inclination … Emotions were harvested … [and] transferred to the murmuring computers.” These emotions are then used as law enforcement; when someone is about to commit a crime, the people monitoring feed back a horrible emotional experience which incapacitates the perpetrator.

The concept is a decent one, even if we’ve seen the “two Earths” and the “control emotions” ideas before. And now and then Keller has some good writing about those feelings and their power, and the misuse of the Intercept. But as noted, The Dark Intercept is just too thin in too many areas to make for a satisfying experience.

The world-building as just about non-existent, with little sense of how New Earth happened (Earth was in terrible shape, just came out of two wars, but somehow put this amazing piece of tech up in the air) or how it works (how do they get materials; do they control population with such limited space). Nor is there any real sense of place in either setting, save for a park in New Earth and a single dwelling in Old Earth, which is pretty much generic Post-Apocalyptic.

The Dark Intercept’s characters are also thin. Violet is, of course, the most substantial, but doesn’t really stand out as an individual. Other characters feel one-note, with that note often tied into plot necessity. Violet is in love with a New Earth police officer, Danny, who is the brother of the Intercept’s inventor, but there’s no chemistry whatsoever between them. Were it not for Violet’s internal monologue about how much she loves him, I’d be hard pressed to figure it out. As for Danny (minor predictable spoiler here), when he tells her he loves her as well, it’s wholly unbelievable.

Plotting doesn’t fare much better. One aspect that drives plot is Violet’s position as an Intercept monitor. Why New Earth has immature (and Violet is absolutely immature) 16-year-olds making potentially life-and-death decisions (her first one we see is just that) is never explained. A device that allows her to tap into Danny’s feed conveniently goes out just as he’s about to reveal something. Then later conveniently comes back (telling us the device somehow sometimes gets a “second wind” doesn’t really fix this problem). Violet takes a pod down to Old Earth and then suddenly is somewhere (we have no idea how) being confronted violently by Old Earth inhabitants. After she’s rescued (conveniently by someone with a connection to the plotline), she meets no others, also conveniently. The rebellion is poorly presented — group of literally faceless people with abstract complaints and incompetent methods. And the ending involves a whole bunch of unearned gear-changing by characters, anti-climactic revelations, and more coincidences.

In the end, The Dark Intercept feels like someone took a checklist of YA dystopic tropes and assembled them into a skeleton but never added flesh or blood. Not recommended.

Published October 2017. The Dark Intercept by Julia Keller is the beginning of a “riveting” (Emmy Laybourne) science fiction adventure that challenges the voluntary surrender of liberties for the perception of safety. When the state controls your emotions, how hard will you fight to feel free? In a radiant world of endless summer, the Intercept keeps the peace. Violet Crowley, the sixteen-year-old daughter of New Earth’s Founding Father, has spent her life in comfort and safety. Her days are easy thanks to the Intercept, a crime-prevention device that monitors emotion. But when her long-time crush, Danny Mayhew, gets into a dangerous altercation on Old Earth, Violet launches a secret investigation to find out what he’s hiding. An investigation that will lead her to question everything she’s ever known about Danny, her father, and the power of the Intercept. Much like the device itself, The Dark Intercept will get under your skin.


  • Bill Capossere

    BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.