By James R Strickland
Looking Glass : This book is set in the not too distant future, in a gritty, unrefined, shattered North America. Hackers and IT security technicians fight a different kind of war in cyberspace. A serial killer has found a way to use the network to reach inside his victims brains, and use these brains as his weapon. Shroud is a security network team leader for a large retail company. In the realm of cyberspace, inside a sensory deprivation tank and jacked in to the network, she is fast, nimble, and ruthless. She is just beginning her shift when the killer strikes for the first time. She survives, but her entire team is dead or missing. She is exiled from her corporate resources, and her search for the killer is fraught with peril and overwhelming odds.
As a fan and reader of the cyberpunk genre, I strongly recommend Looking Glass. I won’t go into a plot synopsis, as others already have. The writing style is tight, and focused through the window of Shroud’s perception and life experiences, and her shift into an increasingly uncomfortable and dangerous situation, both mentally and physically. It is this revelation of her inner life, with its defensive limitations and powerful motivations that keeps the focus on the human, despite the seeming technological focus of the plot.
The dystopic setting of the splintered second world North America is revealed as is needed by the narrative. The technology is speculative, but much more soundly grounded in current technologies that give a sense of competence to the characters actions, and satisfaction to the reader familiar with the topics.
In the end, to me, Science Fiction is a human story. It asks what will we do, what will we become, when technology has changed our society, our horizons, our bodies and challanged the limits of what is possible. Looking Glass does this, with a good touch for personal tension, evolving character awareness, and human weakness.
The plot is well thought-out, and the pacing is fast without being frenetic. There’s little, if any, plot telegraphing or foreshadowing. The setting is future, yet the reference points are tantalizingly close to our present – again, enough to keep me invested (Shame about Reno, though). And while “cyberpunk” applies in general genre terms, the author isn’t trying to be William Gibson or anyone else, which is a refreshing change! But if you like that style, then you’ll definitely want to give this book a try.
One day, one of those hackers turns out to be a serial killer, and uses the fact that people are jacked in to the Internet to use the Internet as a way to kill. Her corporation, Omni-Mart, in standard shortsighted corporate cover-up style, gets in the way of her investigation, while the killer pursues her every move in a world that is so completely connected to the Net that movement without observation is just about impossible.
Dr. Farro, or “Shroud” as she is known, is one of the most dynamic characters in fiction. She wrestles with inner demons as well as the muck that is the Internet of tomorrow. She doesn’t necessarily deal with these demons very well. In a job that requires a certain level of paranoid schizophrenia to perform well, she is good at her work.
However, when the reader gets inside her head, we knew that this perfect employee of the future is far from a perfect human being, a metaphor, I think, for the future shock and information overload that we experience every day. Strickland shows us that all the great technology that makes our civilization work so well may not be good for our mental health. It’s a powerful message, yet there is no moralizing that gets in the way of a truly exciting thriller.
All in all, it was a great read, and I’ll be back for the next installment.