Welcome to the Working for the Mandroid stop on WH Buxton's blog tour for Cyberlife, hosted by Pump Up Your Book! If you're new to the site, welcome! We hope you'll take a look around and see what else we have to offer.
Now on to the review!
Bennett & Hastings Publishing (2011)
Science Fiction / Cyberpunk
I hesitate to call WH Buxton’s Cyberlife a cyberpunk novel. While a large portion of it does take place in a concurrent virtual reality/cyber world, it doesn’t really have the radical change in society that I usually see in cyberpunk novels. This world looks much like our own except with talking appliances and virtual reality assistants. Despite all the technology included in the novel, the book felt more like a corporate espionage tale without a lot of overarching suspense.
Cyberlife takes place in 2069 and is about a week in the life of Jim Murphy, who is slightly above average and lives in a fully automated apartment where his appliances regularly give him a hard time about his mediocrity. He works as a Knowledge Management Consultant at the mega-corp SciPop Inc., where his boss dislikes him for always completing his projects on time and under budget. Jim has a “Vertal” or virtual version of himself named Jasper, who acts as part assistant, part manager of Jim’s life. In an attempt to rid SciPop of Jim’s “bad influence”, his superiors send him on an impossible mission to convince the owner of a hiking and outdoor store to sell out her company to SciPop. Some bad business deal done on paper – unheard of by this time – has SciPop owning a minority share of 49% when it’s company policy is to own everything within the SciPop family.
There are a lot of moving parts and parallel storylines in this book, so it’s a bit difficult to explain it all in a short summary and a lot of it is business politics that don’t sound very interesting on paper, but play out well within the context of the story. The interactions between Jim and Laura, the owner of the previously mentioned hiking store, felt genuine and were my favorite parts of the book. Laura, who lives without a Vertal and manages her life outside the cyber realm, comes across as confident and in charge of her life, making her the most interesting and less annoying human character within the book. Simply by being in her presence, Jim becomes a less pathetic schlub and becomes a more interesting person.
I found the talking appliances both amusing and a bit obnoxious after awhile. It felt like as the story went on, the appliances became superfluous and only existed to give Jim – and therefore me as the reader – a headache. If there was more information about why these appliances had their own individual personalities or how they became more or less sentient beings, it might have worked more for me, but as it is, I couldn’t figure out why someone would want an alarm clock that yells at you until you leave the house or a toilet that made disturbing comments about your “deposits”. While it helped to show the advances in technology and create a world, I would have much rather spent more time with Jasper on his cyber sphere adventures than with Jim and his talking toilet.
The idea of the Vertals is fascinating and one that I wish had been explored more. At the age of 18, everyone is given a virtual reality counterpart that acts as an assistant, life coach and constant companion. They look vaguely like their human counterparts and are created to be the optimal version of yourself if you were to fulfill your full potential. Needless to say, Jim’s Vertal is far more competent and put together than Jim himself. Overall he was the most interesting character in the book and he disappeared for half of it.
One of the larger overarching mysteries involves Jim’s boss – a Vertal – and who his human counterpart is. I figured this out after the first meeting with the boss and so wasn’t the least bit surprised when the secret came out at the end of the book. It became a bit of a letdown as so much was made of the mysterious identity of the Vertal throughout the book. Overall things that felt like they should be mysteries or were being set up as mysteries were pretty obvious to me, so there wasn't any surprises and I wasn’t left desperately wanting to pick the book back up after having to put it down.
The overarching story line flows well though it starts off slow and takes a while to get moving. The first few pages might intimidate a reader not familiar with science fiction or cyberpunk in particular because it’s full of jargon and techno-babble. It took me a few tries to get into it only to be faced with the talking toilet. It takes nearly a third of the book before the character of Laura is introduced and Jim is given a purpose beyond being mildly above average in a boring, colorless life. By that point, the pacing of the story grows consistently faster until the final confrontation between all parties.
There’s also a battle between Jasper – the cyber version of Jim – and a high school kid’s giant battle Vertal that’s a centaur warrior queen. The fight between the two while Laura and Jim are talking as though they can’t see the virtual reality war destroying the hiking store around them was my favorite part of the book. It showed humor and the potential for a much larger story than just an evil corporation trying to beat down the little guy.
Cyberlife is the first of a trilogy. The setup left for the next book was intriguing and implied to me that more of the action would take place within the cyberworld, so I’ll be interested to see where Buxton takes these characters in the future.
Dense technobabble that takes the story awhile to get moving; most interesting characters are missing most of the time; too much business politics for my taste
I received a copy of this book from the author for the blog tour in return for an honest review. All opinions are my own.