BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Expert bug-hunter William Bellow must find the cyberspace bug that is killing its users.
PROS: Interesting concepts; plot is fast-paced and always moving forward.
CONS: Thought-provoking topics left under-explored; needed more proofreading.
BOTTOM LINE: This is a worthwhile and interesting cyber-mystery set in a cool world.
In the novella-sized book Prime, Nate Kenyon takes on the ambitious task of combining cyberpunk, mystery, cloning, and the Singularity. More often than not, it’s a successful piece of fiction and one whose narrative drive always seems to be moving forward while dropping cool sf-nal treats along the way. The plot revolves around a faulty virtual reality system — run by the obviously-evil New London corporation — that kills some its users. That tends to be bad for business, so the company brings in expert bug hunter William Bellow to track down the problem. Bellow’s history is both mysterious and forgotten; something happened in his past and he has little recollection of the past six years. As Bellow looks for clues throughout New London (the city erected over old London by the megalomaniacal corporation of, confusingly, the same name), he uncovers not only clues to the cyber-problem, but also to his own past.
Bellow, it turns out, is quite a talented individual. Not only can he intuit code within VR (think of Neo at the end of The Matrix) but he also has incredible fighting skills. He also sports cool tech like optic computer interfaces. He’s enjoyable as a kick-ass action techie, but his cloudy past prevents him from being completely likable. Nor does it explain his immediate attraction to Kara, a sex clone that he meets early into the story. Kara connects Bellow with Chin-Hae, the underground tech wizard of the Resistance, an anti-sprawl faction against the quasi-religious Transformation movement promoted by New London. Transformation encourages the use of virtual reality, genetic modification and pharmaceutical dependency to not only enhance life, but move it beyond its fleshy confines to the next stage of evolution. New London is the enabler, providing technology that manipulates the brain’s alpha waves, allowing people to escape the humdrum banality of everyday reality.
There are a lot of tasty ingredients swirling around in this literary stew. Though enjoyable overall, the final result does not necessarily equal the sum of its parts. For one thing, some of the though-provoking issues are left under-explored. It’s not enough to just mention the integration of man and machine as a theme, you also have to show what the issues are. In some aspects, the book needed more proofreading, too. For example, when given three names as possible sources of information, we’re told that two of them are dead and then that the three of them have “gone dark”. Well, yeah, you can’t get darker than dead, right? In other cases, Bellow seems to miss easy clues. Chin Hae, for example, denies something Bellow learned from a supposedly trusted character. Soon after, this trusted character’s story is disputed yet again – this time by a person Bellow knows is untrustworthy. It is only then that Bellow realizes his friend not telling the truth. Lapses in common sense like this weaken the character and the plot.
But the fast-moving plot and the topics discussed in the book, despite the lack of deep exploration, redeem the book’s misgivings to some degree. Sure, New London portrayed as Big Evil Corporation is clichéd, but the underlying reasons are meaty. The end result is a cyberpunk mystery that is good, but has the potential to be even better.