Shades: The Gehenna Dilemma is the extraordinarily original and inventive science fiction/dystopian novel of a bleak future where the IRS bring back debtors from the dead as “Shades,” turning them into servants of the state. As the old saying goes, “The only thing certain in life are death and taxes.” Shades takes this literally and combines the two ideas.
The book centers around Jonah, a reluctant IRS agent (called a “ghoul”), who’s trying to pay off his mother’s debts, while contending with his girlfriend whose job is to protect the poor from becoming Shades. The novel is a perfect balance of page turner and character study with surprising new twists throughout. It’s a very promising beginning to a new series.
Like the best science fiction, what makes Shades really stand out is it’s an allegory for our present-day society, yet it never becomes overly preachy. Though the tax scenario could have been heavy on anti-tax themes, Shades is more a commentary on mindless consumerism. Many become Shades willingly: they’ll gladly have a shiny new car today to become a Shade after death. The commentary is somewhat like the zombies who attack the mall in the original “Dawn of the Dead” movie, but much more complex and elaborate. Comparisons with other zombie stories are a bit unfair because Shades is a completely original take on the subject, a feat in itself. Highly recommended.