Friday, May 19, 2017

Ghosts of Tomorrow by Michael R. Fletcher review

    Neil Stephenson's Snow Crash remains the greatest cyberpunk novel ever written with it just barely nudging out Neuromancer in my opinion. I've written a cyberpunk novel, myself, with Agent G: Infiltrator and elements in my dark space opera Lucifers Star but I'm nowhere near the top of the genre. That might not be the case for Michael R. Fletcher who has written a cyberpunk novel that, if there's any justice in the world, should be ranked among those three as defining the genre. Which is high praise, I know, for a book primarily with a fourteen-year-old cowboy spider samurai assassin as one of its protagonists.

    Snow Crash was an affectionate parody of cyberpunk's excesses with a black samurai pizza boy who worked for the Italian mob and a 15-year-old Fedex girl with a sedative-equipped chastity belt. Ghosts of Tomororw, by contrast, embraces every one of the excesses of Neil Stephenson's book but manages to present them in a horrifying as well as tragic light. Many of the murderous cyborg killers in this book act like hyperactive overstimulated video-game addicted fourteen-year-olds. Which makes sense because they are hyperactive overstimulated video-game addicted fourteen-year-olds. They've just had their brains destroyed to make scans so the easily-indoctrinated child-soldiers can be unleashed on the rest of the world.

    The premise is humanity has become addicted to the use of scans as a substitute for still-undeveloped artificial intelligence. Scans are a process where a human brain is destroyed but their personality and intelligence is copied onto an electronic format. They're much faster than regular humans in piloting, managing business assets, and even serving as assassins but the demand for them is overwhelming. This has resulted in the mob and other organized crime syndicates start trafficking children to be killed in their preteen years by the thousands, providing society with the scans they don't question the origin of.

    Thankfully, not everyone is a monstrous psychopath and a few individuals are trying to curb the rampant child-murder. Griffin is a NATU (North American Trade Union) agent working with plucky reporter Nadia and a 17-year-old new combat-chassis-equipped scan named Abdul. Griffin failed in his first attempt to shut down a child slavery ring and has resolved to never do so again, no matter how much collateral damage gets in his way. Abdul is a man who "died" thanks to a spider-mine and has taken what form of survival he could but is going rapidly insane from the sensory deprivation his new life entails. Naida? Naida regurgitates the party line even though it's complete nonsense. These are the "good guys" on the case.

    The bad guys are Riina, a mid-level mafia boss who has murdered and scanned thousands of children with the belief he's doing the impoverished children of Third World Nations a favor. 88 is an autistic girl murdered as a pre-teen and turned into a digital goddess on the quest for a "mother" she barely remembers. There's Miles Lorkner, a billionaire who believes scans are the future of humanity and thus it's perfectly justified to murder however many people necessary to resolve the world's problems with them. Finally, there's Archaeidae who is the aforementioned fourteen-year-old cowboy spider samurai assassin--and a character so insane that he steals the show every time he's on page.

    It's difficult to say what character is my favorite as they're all so vividly realized. I really liked Griffin and Nadia's relationship despite them being the two most normal characters in the book. Abdul's existential angst is entirely justified since he's in a sensory-deprivation tank with the only purpose left to him being murder. 88 is also blissfully tragic and I sympathized with her even as her bodycount approaches five figures. I even liked reading about Lorkner's psychotic breakdown as it's clear the man envisioned himself as an ubermensch but is incredibly unprepared for life as a scan.

    The book is full of action, intrigue, murder, crazy situations, double-crosses, triple crosses, and allegiances shifting constantly. Every character is motivated and three-dimensional but all of them tend toward the extreme because it's an extreme world. However, the saddest part of the book is that it's depiction of thousands of children used up for scans every year is not so different from the same kinds of kids today being used up for other kinds of trafficking. We're not so far removed from the cyber-hell in the book and the only difference is we have less block-destroying battles between cyborgs.

    Which is a shame.


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