Category Archives: Cyberpunk

Pattern Black by Sean Platt and Johnny B Truant

Stars: 2 out of 5

This book was a chore to read, and I almost DNFed it at 32% when things were making to sense at all and I was getting very annoyed with the narrative.  I powered through it and finished this book, but I’m not sure I made the right choice. It had been a long and often frustrating slog to get through all 700+ pages of this.

The concept itself is really interesting. I mean, I love Inception. I still think it’s one of the best movies ever made. So I was really excited to read something similar. Unfortunately, this concept is a lot harder to bring to life on a written page than it is on the silver screen. Where in a movie you could add an element of crazy and reality not making sense in small visual queues, on a page it just makes for a very confusing and frustrating narrative. 

It doesn’t help that this confusion persists for the first 40% of the book. This is way too long to leave the reader wondering what the heck is going on. I have seen that a lot of readers DNFed this book around 30-35% in, and I totally understand why. Like I said, I almost did the same.

Once the protagonist emerges out of the simulation within a simulation he’s been in for the first half of the book, things start to pick up steam and make slightly more sense, but even then, the action drags. Unnecessarily, in my opinion. I found that the final confrontation took too much time as well. I kept turning the pages and wishing for things to finally be over, yet the conflict still dragged and dragged. When I finally reached the last page, my thought was “thank God, it’s done,” instead of “wow, that was good book.” That should tell you something about how invested I was(n’t) in this story.

I got tired of the simulation within simulation within another simulation that was constantly going on. I also got tired of the double- triple- and quadruple-crossing going on in this book. It made my brain hurt.

 I might have enjoyed the twists and turns better if I cared about the characters, but as it stands, all of them are horrible human beings. Especially Mason. He is awful in the beginning of the book when he is in the simulation, and he doesn’t get much better once he emerges into the real world. In fact, all the characters do is fight with each other, bicker and hurt each other. There isn’t a single healthy relationship to be found. They never talk about their issues or try to resolve them. They just lash out and make things worse. The relationship between Mason and Carter is especially toxic, and nothing is done about it. 

To be honest, by the end of the book I was cheering Mason on when he held the logic bomb, because I would have actually been happy with an “and everybody died” ending for this group of wonderful human beings. As it stands, the ending is rather unsatisfying, because I don’t think our protagonist learned the most important lesson he had to learn – that hiding from his issues isn’t a solution. 

I am still giving this book 2 stars, because it is well-written, and the concept is amazing. With more likeable characters you could root for, this would have been a very good story.

PS: I received an advanced copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Moon Rising (The Upsilon Series 1) by Daniel Weisbeck

Stars: 3.5 out of 5

This was an interesting novella about an android that’s just different enough to finally achieve consciousness. I liked our main protagonist Silon and her slow realization that everything is not as it seems. I also must admit that the first chapter was really chilling, especially since we didn’t know she was an android yet.

I cared less about the other characters that were introduced and whose POWs we followed during this book. I think this is where the book doesn’t quite work for me. It’s such a short read, but we have so many different POVs relating the events, and often backtracking to re-narrate what we already saw happening. This makes for a very chopped up delivery. In my opinion, this book is too short for this many different narrators.

In my opinion, this story would have benefited from being a bit more fleshed out. It moves too fast, too many things happen one after another, so there is not time for actual character exploration. 

Take Silon, for example, most of the changes she experienced are done either off screen or described through the eyes of other characters. So I didn’t see the progressive evolution of her character. She feels more like a playable character in an RPG – get enough experience to unlock the next level and look – upgrades! The problem with that is that all the changes feel done to her, not chosen by her. 

First, she is stuck in that basement until another character disables her safety protocols and orders her to come out. No real active choice made there, since she just obeys a command. Then at Charlie’s lab she is basically hacked again and a whole new set of programs is downloaded into her brain. I think the only really independent choice she makes is when she decides to stay with Teacher. I would have liked a little bit more agency from her in this story.

The other problem is character motivation. It’s very fuzzy and never really explained for some of them, and very on the nose for others. And that’s also a result of the book being so short. We simply don’t have time to explore the motivations of the different actors in this story. Which makes them seems a lot less like fleshed out characters and a lot more like devices put there by the author to move the story along. And them becoming basically cannon fodder doesn’t have an emotional impact on the reader at all, because we didn’t get to know them enough to care.

But despite these misgivings, this was an enjoyable and quick read that helped me pass a snowy afternoon curled up on my couch. I’m just hoping that the next book will be longer, and that the author takes time to explore the characters more.

PS: I received a free copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Dogs of DevTown by Taylor Hohulin

 Stars: 3.5 out of 5

I don’t usually read a lot of cyberpunk. Mostly because the few books I tried, I couldn’t get into the story. I did love the game Cyberpunk 2077, even though it had its own bugs and frustrating moments. So when I read the description of Dogs of DevTown, I decided to give it a try, and I’m happy I did. This is more of a novella then a novel, so it’s short and very readable. I think I knocked it out in two evenings, even though I wasn’t rushing myself.

I like the imagery the author created. The multicolored holograms reflecting off the skyscrapers of DevTown. The sea of humanity clogging the streets at any time of day or night, looking for their next vice. The rain, the stench… It is a tantalizing but also depressing image, since this DevTown, even though modern looking, seems soulless and unforgiving. I reminded me a little about the dystopian landscape of Blade Runner, and I love that movie (the original one.

I also liked our protagonist. Shan is prickly and can come across as rather rude and uncaring, and she tries very hard to live like she is an island, but I have known people like that. In her line of work, the only person you can trust is yourself. The only person you can afford to care about is yourself as well. She tracks and kills people for money after all. So if she wants to stay on this side of the grave herself, she can’t ask too many questions. Just enough to find the person she is paid to kill and get the job done. She gets paid, then she forgets about it. Much safer to live that way… only nobody is really an island, no matter how much they try. And sooner or later something happens that will make even the most isolated person decide to dig deeper. 

The other characters in the book were sufficiently fleshed out to be interesting, even memorable for some of them. I found the main villain rather over the board though. Also, there is a big logical hole with the villains motivation. I won’t talk about it here because that would spoil the book, but that made the villain a lot less believable for me, and elicited a few eyerolls until I finished the story.

My biggest problem with this book, and the reason I only gave it 3.5 stars, is a huge plot hole that the author left in the story. I understand that he probably wrote himself in a corner and didn’t know how to keep the story going if he patched that particular plot hole, but it was so big and obvious, a semi truck could have fallen into it. 

So the author goes to great lengths to tell us that Shan has no mech augments whatsoever. He also makes sure we know that she has never been on the Net, because she doesn’t have mech augments or a port to jack into the system. So how can she catch a virus that transmits itself through the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth signals that connect different mechs to the Net? She doesn’t have any, remember? Okay, maybe it’s a virus that can jump the hardware to wetware barrier (insert eyeroll here). It’s a cyberpunk book, so everything is possible. So I could have rolled with the fact that unaugmented Shan caught a computer virus. 

The problem though is that she is a closed system. She doesn’t have mech. She isn’t connected to the Net. No Wi-fi, no Bluetooth, remember? So how is the creator of the virus able to communicate with her? It’s a virus that infects mech. She is full human. There is no logical way for it to happen.  That’s the point where I lost interest in the story. I can only suspend my disbelief so much.

But if you are willing to ignore that particular problem and just roll with it, this book is a fun read. Plus, it’s short, so it’s a nice little pallet cleanser between longer books.

PS: I received an advanced copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.