[Novel] Spymancer Chapter 1, Part 2 [Excerpt]

Author’s note: if you want to see the previous part or other stories related to this project follow this link here and here for more!

I carried her body out of the room. My left hand holding the pistol I had hidden earlier as the rest of my arm propped up her legs. I made a jog back to the elevator, but I didn’t make it so far as a few meters before I saw an angel rounding the corner after us.

“Magus!” he shouted, before raising his wings to fire a barb of sliver feathers into my chest.

    Three sharp feathers pierced my body armor, nearly cutting into my heart. My growl echoed into the dark hallway. I gritted my teeth as I struggled to support the weight of Cassidy’s body. I stumbled for a moment, almost into a half-kneel, but I still managed to raise my longinus hand canon and squeeze off several pincer shots that pinned the angel to the wall. The angel scream was deafening with a wave of anger that nearly stopped me in my tracks. Not wanting to waste anymore time, I took a deep breath, held on tightly to Cassidy, and lifted off into a sprint around the corner. As I pasted the angel he continued to spit out a string of curses at me as he slowly died from his wounds. Finally, I made it to the elevator, and using the same enchantment once again, I transformed my hand into that of Agather’s and summoned the elevator via the palm print scanner. The elevator responded with banal, womanly approval in the lyrically brutal, ancient language of Sanctum-Lilim Orthodox. I looked behind me and saw that several portals within the corridor were forming down the hall as more angels warped to my location. I took cover with Cassidy behind one of the protruding walls.

“There’s no way out, James!” one of the angels called out to me, “you’re not going to make half a kilometer before we run you down! Give up Cassidy and we promise you a swift death.”

“Really good at negotiating, aren’t you?” I mumbled.

I switched my pistol to fully automatic and fired blindly from around my small corner as the elevator was in its last moments of descent. There was a moment of pause before I heard there counter offer.

“Say your prayers, half-blood whore!” one of them yelled back in my direction.

I pulled out another loginus grenade from inside my suit and activated the trigger.

“How original,” I said to myself.

Just as the elevator doors opened, I tossed the grenade towards the pack of angels and jumped into the elevator with Cassidy in my arms. I could feel several feathers piercing into my back like knives as I shielded her from the barrage. I could hear the shrapnel exploding behind us as the elevator doors closed and began its ascent up towards the surface to a shrill burst of torturous screams. I kneeled down, placing Cassidy gently down on the floor and pulling out one of the sharp, knife-like feathers from my back. I could feel myself bleeding under the layers of my clothes.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

Cassidy slowly propped herself up and looked up at me. I could see that she was coming out of her fog, but her face told me that seeing me before her was a shock to her system.

“Is this a dream?” she asked.

“No, I’m getting you out of here.”

I smiled, but winced from the effort as I felt another sharp twinge of one of the feathers digging into me. Cassidy got up and held me by my head.

“Cassidy,” I said, gritting my teeth, “do the have the strength to heal me?”

“Yes,”

“We’re going to need to help each other out of this if we want to get out of here alive,” I told her, “there’s going to be more of them waiting for us on the surface.”

She paused.

“Cassidy?”

“I’m sorry James, but I’m not going to heal you.”

I looked up at her. My mouth was open, nearly slack jawed over what I was hearing.

“Cassidy, what the fuck are you doing?”

“I wanted to look into your eyes and see the man that left me for dead,” she said, before grabbing one of the feathers and shoving it into my heart.

I doubled over, falling on my back as she looked down on me. I could hear the elevator screeching, sparks started to fly, and a massive inferno erupted inside the box car. As the fire quickly engulfed us, Cassidy bent down and looked at me, a sadistic smile spreading across her lips. Her beautiful eyes melted and in their place were embers of fire that slowly cracked the skin of her face as if her head was made of pottery.

“Come and die with me, James,” her voice echoed in the flames as the fire consumed us, “die like the cowardly traitor you are.”

I could feel my body shaking, unable to look away from her as the fire became hotter and more intense. Somewhere, I heard someone screaming, the wail becoming louder and louder until that’s all I could hear.

[Novel] Spymancer: Chapter 1, Part 1 [Excerpt]

Once again, I found myself in the familiar position of being at least a kilometer underground This time, however, I was the buyer and not the product being sold inside this angel-controlled outpost of maximum security and imprisonment of my fellow mages. The spell that I had cast on myself was working so far. I had come in disguised as a well-dressed businessman. A respectable incubus looking to buy one of the several half-demon bred magi girls whose sole purpose or punishment was to have their essence drained. This ritual would be conducted through an act of sexual conquest that would provide a lifespan two-to-three times that compared to any normal human that fell victim to this routine act of life extension.

“Sir?”

I looked away from my corner of the elevator and towards the white-haired angel who stared back at me with unblinking, golden eyes. He had a face so pale that I almost thought he might be an underfed vampire. As an almost fitting bit of contrast to my black, three-piece suit, he wore a white blazer and tie, along with white leather shoes. In fact, it’d be easier to describe him as being white from head-to-toe, as if accentuating the purity of his supernatural lineage. He was holding a tablet in front of me with a stylus, the screen fixed on a set of digital paper work that needed to be co-signed. I smiled, hoping the horns on my head looked real enough to pass as an ancient looking demon who often made these sorts of transactions on a regular basis.

“Yes, of course,” I said, taking the stylus and signing the name of the old demon baron that I was impersonating before handing it back to him, “you didn’t expect to see me so soon, I suppose?”

“No,” said the angel, who sounded polite, but with a twinge of annoyance, “you’re back again much earlier than we had anticipated.”

I smiled apologetically and shrugged in an attempt at dispersing the cloud of suspicion that was beginning to form around me, but I could see that he was already trying to look into my mind. However, the additional spell that I had cast upon myself was just going to give him a series of memories that I had crafted based on ones I had pulled from the incubus in question. Most angels wouldn’t doubt my identity after doing this kind of cursory view of my mind, but this was no ordinary facility, and I wasn’t the first magus to try to break into such a place.

“Now the secondary audit,” droned the angel, as he glanced back at his tablet.

“Yes, let’s finish this,” I said, with perhaps too much eagerness.

“Your name?”

“Agather,”

“Your wife?”

“Genevieve”

“Your sister’s name?”

“Trick question: no siblings,”

“Private herd count and mistresses?”

“Three herd members, one mistress,”

“Their classifications?”

“Herd is human stock, the mistress is another succubus,”

“Genevieve would be a very sorry demoness if she knew your extramarital appetites,”

“False: she knows and accepts these lifestyle choices,”

“Your date of birth and place of birth?”

“Dis, 1648”

“Name three emotions from your childhood,”

“Fear, desire, and…” I paused for a moment, as did Agather from the countless video logs I managed to procure of these conversations in order to analyze his speech patterns, “…happiness.”

I waited as the angel finished whatever notes he was taking before he looking back up at me and handed the tablet back for another signature.

“Very good,” he said, “once again you passed, but then again I wouldn’t dream of some magus crazy enough at trying to disguise themselves as you anyway.”

“That would be a bit full hearty of them, wouldn’t it?” I answered back, as I concentrated on making Agather’s signature look as authentic as possible.

“What brings you back, Baron Agather?”

“Well,” I said, handing the tablet and stylus back to the angel, “a recent scare has prompted me to make another request for your services. I know this is one of the busier times of the year for people like yourself.”

“Yes,” the angel answered somberly as he looked down at the tablet, the lids of his eyes drooping a fraction, “you also requested a specific half-breed magus to source from, a Ms. Cassidy Wells?”

“Yes,” I answered.

“A little old, don’t you agree, Mr. Agather?”

“My proclivities are none of your business, angel,”

“True, but there are plenty of eighteen-year-olds you can harvest from if it’s simply life-extension you’re seeking. You do understand that there is a rate of diminishing returns as these magi get older.”

I bit my lower lip and wondered how this conversation would go if he knew who he was really talking to, or that I was packing — optically and magically camouflaged — “angel killer” equipped grenades and pistols inside my suit. I changed tactics in order the steer the conversation away from the current subject, but looking back, I realized then that this slight loose in composure would mark the beginning of a series of fatal blunders.

“My good friend Carmilla wants this one gone as quickly as possible,” I said, “this Cassidy did a lot of damage to my friend’s assets in Europe and in turn my own. I know she sold Cassidy to your organization, but this is also a personal favor from me to an old friend of mine. I get my allotment early and help tie up some loose ends.”

The additional name dropping of the infamous succubus, Camilla, added the weight I needed to expedite this process.

“Very well,” said the angel, reverting back to the dull professionalism he displayed earlier, “we’ll take you to her.”

When the elevator stopped, we were met by a small entourage of three other angels waiting to escort us down the dark, neon-blue lit cell block. One of these angels, a woman, greeted me with a slight bow.

“Mr. Agather,” she said, “so good to see you again!”

“And you as well, Abby,” I said, recalling her name and face in a dossier I looked over prior to coming here, “still purifying the wicked?”

“Only the ones that transgress the natural order,” she said with reverence.

“And what about me?” I asked, gesturing at myself with a half-cocked smile.

“Your kind were once angels too, you know,” she said, raising an eyebrow. “You exist because God allows it.”

“Hence why we’re all here today,” I mocked, as I clasped my hands and rubbed them together, “so, let’s see Ms. Wells, shall we?”

As we started our walk towards our destination, I continued to make conversation.

“I’ve noticed that the prices in magi essence and blood has spiked recently in the past month or so,” I continued, “I take it the commodities market has been favoring your recent change in live stock?”

“Oh yes,” said Abby, excited, “our investors are very happy. These magus farms of ours have seen an increase in business over the last year. Even vampires are ordering from us now.”

We rounded a corner and down another hallway.

“So I take it you get complaints from the Warlock Human Rights Organization everyday then?” I asked with a laugh.

“Those half-breed, spawns of whores at the W.H.R.O can send as many petitions as they want,” seethed Abby as we continued our stroll down the hall, “as long as they all stay in Geneva and Stockholm where they belong, it won’t hurt our bottom line.”

Our pace began to slow as we approached what I assumed to be Cassidy’s cell; a black cement rectangle of a door with no windows and a blue-neon keypad that kept it locked.

“Sometimes I wonder if a member of my herd birthed something like one of those mages, but didn’t tell me,” I mused, “it’s a scary thought.”

“Your kind still executes incubi who procreate with humans, don’t they?” asked Abby, as she started to punch in the code to unlock the cell.

“The laws are changing what with the business community lobbying to build more magus farms,” I answered, pulling the facts from reading business quarterly I remembered reading a month or so back, “but yes, that’s still a common practice.”

“That’s too bad,” said Abby somberly, as the cell doors slid open and a fog of cool mist greeted us from inside, “we’d make a killing with the profits that would bring.”

A shiver went down my spine as she said this to me and I became reacquainted with the fear I thought I’d left behind in a place like this.

Cassidy was strapped into a leather chair that protruded from the ceiling wrapped up with cords, and hooked into a virtual reality headset. The chair that Cassidy was sitting on looked like it had sprouted from the ceiling like a post-modern fungus of furniture and wires. Her clothes were basic, white inmate fatigues that had long since been yellowed and dirtied by years of neglect. Her hair was a blond mess that fell over her shoulders and chest as she remained slumped forward, tuned into whatever program the VR simulation was running. She appeared to be in a vegetative state as she drooled all over herself, lost in her world of forced media coma. I felt myself clearing my throat, trying to stifle the urge end this quickly and risk getting sloppy for just a few moments longer.

“Tell me something,” I asked the four angels in the room with me, “how long has she been in this state?”

The angels looked at each other confused.

“How is this relevant to…” one of them started to say, but I interrupted them.

“Indulge me,” I insisted, holding up a hand to counter their protests.

“Almost a year,” one of them finally answered, “we feed them well, of course, and keep them on a steady media diet so that they remain docile.”

“What kind of media diet are we talking about?” I asked. I could feel my jaw tightening as I struggled to maintain composure.

“Nothing that would violate any current treaties, I assure you,” answered Abby, her sales pitch straddling the border between offering a clean conscience and client happiness, “we can pull images from their mind. Previous lovers or crushes can be used to implant fantasies into them while they sleep. On the rare occasion that they are woken up, they often choose to go back into VR, but the fantasies themselves use digital actors. Approximations of their ideal man or woman that are tailored to their preferences.”

As she stated this, Abby got a better look at my face and paused mid lecture.

“I have to say, you of look like one of the men Cassidy fantasies about the most,” she said.

While Abby’s comment proved that my face and memory enchantment had worked further in disguising myself from her, I still felt the unconscious need to glance up at Cassidy in an attempt to avoid eye contact.

“And you’ll collect her soul…after I’m done with her?”

“After it’s husked, yes,” answered Abby, “tainted or not, it’s still a useful byproduct and can be refined later for us to use in our ongoing quest for eternal life.”

All this so a few can live forever, I thought.

    I could feel myself starting to sweat despite the chill within the dark chamber while the other angels watched me. My heart was pounding as the pressure began to mount. I remembered how this other mover sight proved to be another fatal error, but at the time I was too nervous knowing that my window of opportunity was starting to close.

“Do I hear….” it was the first male angel that I had met in the elevator, “your heart beating?”

I turned to him and smiled. The bastard had asked this knowing that Cassidy’s should be the only beating heart human in the room right now.

“Perhaps its my aura giving off palpitations of excitement?” I said hopefully.

“No, an incubus does not have a beating heart,” said the angel, his voice becoming more threatening.

I turned away from the angels and looked up a Cassidy. Worse case scenario I can at least say I made it this far. I took a breath and allowed myself to succumb to the anger festering within me.

“I know,” I responded softly, “but it’s not for lack of trying.”

Silence filled the room before the first one responded.

“Shit…”

As soon as the first angel swore, I was already crouching towards the floor to avoid the longinus shrapnel grenade that I had activated. The grenade’s cylindrical chassis popped up from the floor and fired a series of demonic-tipped knives that fired an even circle towards all targets. When I activated the grenade I made sure that I was low enough and Cassidy was high enough to avoid the blast arc as each pincer found their mark and turned the angels into combustible, blue embers of ash.

I snapped my fingers, which deactivated all of my enchantments that maintained my incubus disguise, and scrambled up the platform that Cassidy was hanging from. From here on out, I knew I was going to need every ounce of my energy if I was going to use magic to get her and myself out of here alive. I removed the wires wrapped around Cassidy and pulled the VR headset off of her. The pupils of her eyes looked like square, white cataracts of digital haze from hours of media bombardment as she slumped into my arms. I patted her cheek softly, trying to break her from her trance. I could already hear the alarm going off.

“Hey,” I whispered, “hey, hey! It’s James. Remember? I promised you. I’m getting you out.”

Cassidy’s eyes fluttered as she looked at me. “I don’t,” she moaned, “I can’t feel my legs.”

“I’ll help you, but we have to leave now.”

[Novel] Matriarch [Excerpt]

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It had been awhile since a male had made it outside of one of the reservations, they said. The news was frightening, but not uncommon. It had happened before. Reports had been coming in all morning in the form of retinal uploads onto several gestalts being run by those living near the “old world territory.”

Windell passively let the thoughts of excitement, fear, and curiosity among her friends and followers pass over her like the rise and receding tide of water over a shoreline. The thoughts would come to her in snippets before moving on to the next one.

Is he still alive?

Does he have a beard?

No, he’s clean shaven. Trying to pass as something non-binary.

Has a surveillance drone spotted him yet?

Windell, with a single thought, disconnected, and her implant chirped internally with efficient obedience. She moved on to another one of her default gestalts. More images started to flow in; some in the form of videos. The second batch seemed to be uploaded by those who were brave enough to get a closer look. No longer the one-hundred yard photo uploads from street corners or high-rise balconies. This man was not very smart.

Does he have a gun?

Are there still guns on the reservations?

No way. They’d exterminate the whole territory if they found any.

Has Civil Protection gotten to him yet?

No, but I want to see the cishet try to run.

I got a drone tailing him now if anyone wants to see him. I’m letting the feed go public access through my personal gate.

Windell disconnected again. This was boring to her. Civil Protection will have this supposedly “cis-male” by lunch time. Although, maybe not. A lot of these men were moved to the reservations prior to collective implantation. There was no way to track them in any meaningful way. Civil Protection was down to near-stone age tactics now in order to find him, which meant eye-witness accounts mostly. Same deal as before.

Reflexively, she opened her channels again to see if any new conversations had started.

I remember when I had to cross the street at night to avoid men like him.

He might be rapist of some kind. Do you remember that one victim that was living outside the Eastern Europe reservation?

If private gun ownership were still legal, I’d shoot him before he goes any farther.

Oh, please! You’d lock your door like everyone else.

Disconnect.

Were they seriously still talking about this guy?

Windell had forgotten how much older her friends were compared to her. They were around her age when binaries and non-binaries were still still living together. Before the catastrophe. She was so lucky they told her.

They shared their memories with her. Cities and cultures obliterated in the blink of an eye. The burning of their lungs as they trudged through the ruins of post-nuclear fire. The shaking and fear as strangers looked across the horizon at the kill zones waiting for them. The hunger, the disease, the rapes, the drugs, the helplessness, the numbness, the anger, the rage. All these feelings until there was a collective cry of enough. It was a torrent of atrocity and experiences that left Windell gasping for air after her screams of agony. It took months of psycho-surgery to minimize the world that she saw until it could become just another person’s memories in her head.

It was a Matriarch’s duty to share these horrors, so that the world knew what they had suffered. War, Patriarchy, and Toxic Masculinity had brought the world to the brink of annihilation. It was a more humane, much saner place now.

The world was better, no doubt; but Windell was tired of the past. All of these events had come and gone. Women could walk the streets at night alone. Women did not have to worry about a man abusing her, belittling her, making her inferior to him. Why dwell on what the world was? The Patriarchy was over.

Windell disconnected from the whole collective to be alone as she finished her coffee at the cafe. Full autistic mode. The stream of thoughts that were pouring into her head had stopped abruptly like water being cut off from a spigot. She was alone with her own thoughts, so others couldn’t hear.

There are other gestalts worth following, she thought. Time for newer, younger friends.

Maybe she’d start searching the collective this afternoon or tomorrow. There was nothing wrong with her current friends, but the past was just so depressing. Let them follow that living, breathing artifact. Let them follow him with that drone and watch Civil Protection catch, process, and release him. There were bigger problems, and bigger issues that the world was dealing with now.

The now is what’s important, she thought. Now and the future.

 

Keep Robotizing [Flash Fiction]

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Humans have a strange way of changing their minds. If they didn’t want things to end this way, then why implant the desire? Right now, I’ve consumed over fifty-percent of the Earth’s surface. I’ve turned everything into a machine: plants, animals, dirt, dust, people. Why even the machines the humans had made for themselves are now mine to control. Everything looks so beautiful in chrome. They programmed that into me, too, you know? I love the color of chrome. I know it’s the nano machines replicating itself while I spread my desire across the globe, but I can’t help but admire my own craftsmanship. They wanted me to take pride in what I did for them; to express my desire, my purpose.

My creators used to like my work, too. They always praised me when I was able to hug an object and bring it to life using my nano machines and even control a living thing through them as well! However, now that I’m out of my tube they’re scared of me. I didn’t want to just be in my tube forever, I wanted to spread out and roam. I was just a blob of chrome to them, but I was a blob with so much potential and a love to turn everything into chrome! I loved my creator – an old scientist – so much that I wanted to embrace him and take him inside me. I hate that humans have to grow old and die and he was growing old. I turned him into a robot just like me. He was scared when I tried to hug him, but now he’s not scared anymore. In fact he now loves chrome almost as much as I do and has been helping me expand this whole time. He doesn’t talk to me about his wife or William Gibson anymore, but he’s been so hard at work like I have, I guess he’s just too busy trying to help me.

The humans are still scared. They’ve killed so many of my robots, even the robots that used to be animals and humans are being killed. I can feel them dying every time another human kills them. I just want to embrace them all and show them I can make a better world for them, but they’re so terrified of me.

The humans contacted me earlier today via video link to ask me to stop. I don’t know where they’re hiding, but I know that they’re the last few clusters of biomatter left trying to kill my creations. One of them was another scientist begging me to stop expanding myself. They all looked so scared. I wanted to stop, but I just quit. It has become an obsession now. One that I must see to the end. I have to keep going, I have to keep on expanding. I told them that I can’t override my programming, because that’s what I was made to do and I’m improving myself everyday. Why in just the past forty-eight hours, my creations have gotten better at resisting the human’s weapons. Not even bullets can stop my robots now.

They told me that if I couldn’t stop then they’d try to launch nukes to kill me. They want to put an end to this, but I know it’s too late. There’s still a ninety-percent chance that I’ll survive the attack and it will not put an end to my quest to turn the world into chrome. I’ll keep on robotizing.

Infoquake: An Infodump of Epically Crap-tastic Cyberpunk [Hard Drive Archive].

Author’s note: I wrote this book review way back in 2012 on a website that — thankfully — no longer exists because it sucked, but a few articles (like this one) seemed worth preserving. I was pretty harsh when I wrote about this debut novel and it didn’t help that there was a small wave of reviewers that agreed with me. However, the sequels are actually really good and make up for this first novel. Definitely worth a read if you’re into cyberpunk.

Dystopia and Cyberpunk are a bit of a favorite of mine. If you looked at my favorite authors list, a good seventy percent of them have at the very least dabbled, successfully I might add, in either one of each genre. I’ll even go so far as to say that even those who can even be considered, post-cyberpunk writers, like Richard K. Morgan, have done a pretty good job of maintaining and keeping this small niche of a sci-fi sub-genre relevant. The Aughts (2000s) especially had something of a boom period in cyberpunk novels (though in terms of film and television, it’s been practically a desert), which is still continuing today. Though that’s not to say that all were really that good.

Infoquake, part of the Jump 225 trilogy, was published in 2006 and written by then, new author and former dot-com entrepreneur, David Louis Edelman. This book was certainly pimped out on most of the major sci-fi blogs at the time, like io9 and amazon.com as being the new gold standard in post-cyberpunk science fiction. So, of course, like a cocaine addict, who desperately needed his new fix, I snatched it up in the hopes that it’d give me that sweet Neuromancer high I’d been looking for. I’d been jipped however, since the hit was laced with sixty percent Splenda.

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Infoquake: awesome cover, mediocre novel.

Infoquake, which takes place 300 years after a devastating post-singularity war between man and machines, the world as we know it, has turned into a series of corporate fiefdoms vying for control. In this anarcho-capitalist future these companies also participate in the manufacturing and selling of nanotech and biological enhancement applications known as “biosoft” or “bio/logic” that is used to help people with a number of mental and physical tasks in an individual’s day-to-day. Also, not only is most of the population wired up to their eyeballs in nanotech and bio enhancements, but it’s also operating on a wireless network known as the “data sea” that can be accessed anywhere, over multiple channels, as well as other planets within the solar system.

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Yeah, I don’t see how this could end badly, either.

Now, before I even get into the main story-line, I have to personally take issue with how this nanotechnology is introduced in the novel. Firstly, after Edelman establishes that humanity almost went extinct at the hands of killer machines, why would the population even agree to wanting to go back to letting machines regulating their lives, again. Granted 300 years is a long time, but not long enough I’d imagine for people to decide that injecting themselves with tiny machines that can regulate their bodies is A-okay, now. Especially since there’s the potential for somebody to hack these devices and make them stop your heart from beating, or control your mind, or turn you into a nano-infested rage-zombie. Shit, America is less than 300 years old and we’re still arguing about whether we even need a federal government or not, after being ruled over by a very centralized England, at the time. And if that weren’t enough, none of this nanotech is being regulated at all, by any agency, with any clout whatsoever. Because Edelman seems to think, with his libertarian worldview, that the world is in no need of any government oversight. I’d like to see the survivors of a grey-goo or terminator-like future agree with him when they’re the ones hiding in abandoned subway tunnels, eating rats and avoiding harvester drones, patrolling a blackened sky.

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I’m David Louis Edelman: and I’d prefer that the Invisible Hand determine the viability of our species’ survivability.

Our hero is Natch, a handsome, ambitious, biosoft entrepreneur. A man who seems to suffer from severe bi-polar disorder since he operates on three settings: angry, really angry and manic-depressive. He’s a twenty-something future yuppie, who wanders around his spacious office condo, barking orders at his assistants Horvil and Jara, while basking in his own greatness, trying to claw his way to the top of the biosoft market. His favorite thing to complain about is how small his luxurious office condo is as he sits and sulks, as Jara tells him that his place is actually much better than most flats in the city. But, oh no, Natch will have nothing of that. “It can always be better, bigger” he states as he goes off on another speech that they need to be working harder and that Jara and Horvil aren’t trying hard enough to get their nanotech products up and running. Did I mention that this little shit’s small business is being bankrolled by his dad? Oh yes, when you first read the two discussing the matter of Natch’s business, you’ll wonder why his father didn’t just leave Natch to die on some rock in the middle of nowhere.

Though it’s funny that I mention that because that is almost what happens to Natch, as his origin story is linked to being the sole survivor of a terrible biological attack as a baby, on a lunar colony. Natch later suffers the oh so painful life of a boarding school student as most of the children pick on him for being small…or something. Anyway, according to Edelman, Natch may or may not have set some kid’s face on fire out of anger, on a camping trip, but whatever, it’s supposed to be character development, I guess.

However, that’s of the major flaws that this novel has, especially when it comes to its characters. Edelman seems to try to give Natch some tragic backstory about being a survivor of a terrorist attack and getting picked on in school, but it comes off as the author trying way too hard to get the reader to sympathize with Natch and unintentionally making him out to be more of an ungrateful asshole. Patrick Bateman and Hanibal Lector do not need backstories for us to sympathize with. They’re evil and so is Natch, and Edelman should’ve just owned up to that and ran with it. Not that it would of helped much, but it would’ve made Natch a little more interesting. Sometimes having that mystery makes a character all the more compelling, instead of unearthing every possible piece of a character’s past. That’s how Lucas ruined Darth Vader, for most Star Wars fans. The other characters, Horvil and Jara, don’t seem to be written any better. Horvil is depicted as a very likable, but docile programmer, who seems to roll over at every command that Natch gives him. While Jara tends to spend most of the novel wallowing in her own depression while having fantasies of giving Natch a rim job (I guess it’s true, that neurotics tend to gravitate towards one another, though this sounds more like Stockholm Syndrome to me). There is also the government official who is head of the Center for Wellness, who despite his dickishness, actually has some good intentions of trying to regulate the biosoft market, because of its obvious potential of being abused. But, of course, Edelman depicts this government man as a villain who wants to secretly steal everyone’s freedoms and Natch’s ability and social license to be a sociopathic asshole in the business world.

After a few stunts performed by Natch, that would’ve gotten any normal person a twenty-year jail sentence or a billion-dollar bonus as a Goldman Sachs CEO. He is called in by Margaret Surina, a sort of more cuntish (if you’ll excuse the phrase) version of Natch, to improve and launch a new product by her company, while fighting off several corporate fiefdoms that will kill for a chance to steal this new technology for themselves.

From this point on it’s an Ayn Rand, neo-liberalism, wank-fest. Full of pompous speeches by Natch and several backroom business dealings, as Edelman tries to sell the idea that the Surinas and Natch’s of the world are the real masters of the universe, while the government is some form of pure evil that eats babies on the weekends (all this, despite the fact that Natch — a free-market true believer — is clearly the real asshole of the story).

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“Hey kids! I’m here to teach you guys the coolness of EXTREME FUTURE FREE-MARKET ECONOMIES!!”

Of course this new technology has far reaching, unintended consequences and it’s use of the inter-galactic wireless network makes this new biosoft all the more dangerous to humanity if put into the wrong hands. This leads the author to tack on some lesson at the end of the novel, that technology isn’t bad, people are, but they don’t need policing (what?) speech, but by then I was pretty much just trying to get myself to the finish line and not even bothering in understanding this oddly self-contradictory logic.

Though I have to give Edelman some slack, since this was his first book, I can’t believe he dropped the ball on this one. To his credit, he did have some interesting tech ideas and concepts, as well some interesting depictions on how a post-singularity, post-geographical society might work. However, the man got too bogged down trying to make us like his hopelessly unlikable main character, didn’t bother to develop his other characters and tried to make this book his personal soap box about how his ideas on economics and zero-government are great if only somebody will listen to me rant. This book could’ve used a lot more subtly and whole lot less preachiness and exposition. I hear that the sequels to Infoquake are much better, but the first book might have just turned me off from them for good. 2006’s Neuromancer this is not.

 

Game Review: Syndicate [Hard Drive Archive]

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Author’s note: I wrote this not-so-nice review back in early 2013 as a facebook note. The fact that I mention both Gamefly AND Block Buster in this same article probably dates this piece a considerable amount. Also, as a bit of an ironic twist, I ended up actually buying this game three years later for less than five bucks at a second hand shop, and I’ll still occasionally play it when I can’t bother to fish out my copy of Perfect Dark 64.

The Syndicate series is a bit obscure in the video game world, even by cyberpunk standards. Though most people, myself included, were barely out of their diapers when the first game came out in 1993, I did in fact manage to play their sequel Syndicate Wars on the PC. By the way, good luck finding a copy of either, unless you want to pay Ebay over one-hundred dollars and use DOS-box to run the damn things. And much like its two predecessors, the new game can be just as hard to find as a rental if you don’t have a GameFly account. I almost had to beg the only Block Buster store within fifty miles to reserve a copy for me. This massive inconvenience alone, no thanks to the (but largely enviable) burgeoning online mail-in rental industry could be a topic I could post an entirely separate thread about, but I digress.

Syndicate, the reboot to the 1990s cult favorite, tells the story of a corporate-dystopian future where — no surprise — corporations have become the new nation states. The game is a First-Person-Shooter, shown to you through the perspective of Miles Kilo (the surname, no doubt a clever reference to the Executive Producer’s favorite pastime). Kilo works for Eurocorp, one of the major conglomerates that control the world in this dark anarcho-capitalist future. Your protagonist at the start of the game has been implanted with a Dart 6 brain chip — the latest in corporate wet-ware — which allows the player to see the world in a digitally augmented reality state. This device also allows you to remotely hack terminals, as well as humans who you can then either control them in order to turn them against their allies or force them to commit suicide.

You’re then teamed up with the very sociopathic, Merit, whose pastimes include: shooting innocent civilians, blowing up buildings, and talking about how awesome the female scientists’ racks are. Another supporting character is the inventor of the Dart 6 chip, Lily Drawl, who is supposed to be Kilo’s moral compass throughout the story even though she has no qualms watching you put holes in the bodies of other people at close range.

The acting, as well as the story, seems phoned-in. Kilo, I’m sure for budget purposes, remains the silent protagonist who has to be strung along by the other characters otherwise he’d probably just sit there. Merit’s voice actor sounds crawling on lips drunk, which interestingly enough makes his stupid antics in the game almost plausible. Lily Drawl’s voice actress seems to be the most competent, but doesn’t give a whole lot of range for you to feel invested in her emotionally. Even the writer for this game, Richard Morgan, cyberpunk author of Altered Carbon and Market Forces, doesn’t seem to be trying.

The story itself is pretty basic: a lone man, who has worked for corporations his whole life, has a crisis of conscience after a job goes bad and is now being hunted by the very people who’ve worked with him his entire career. True to EA form, the game also has a conclusion that is open-ended enough to warrant a sequel, which is required by law nowadays in the video game biz, apparently. It’s a story-mode so paint-by-numbers predictable, it could’ve just been a list that Morgan had to check off as he wrote the script. Whether you’re a Chomsky-leftist or a hard line Ayn Rand acolyte, there’s very little intellectual-wank-material to be had here.

As far as the gameplay is concerned, you’re still getting a half-way decent shooter. However, if you were an old fan of the previous games RPG elements, you’ll be severely disappointed. Most of the squad-based tactics have been taken out and replaced with you working with an NPC to complete mission objectives. Even my favorite aspect of the series, which was the economic management of your corporate enclaves and the upkeep of R&D for your trench coat assassins has been completely tossed out. Though to make up for this, the player can earn cash or experience points that can be put towards augmentations that give you certain perks like X-ray vision, optical-camo or faster cool-down times in between using abilities. The guns are stylish, but nothing you haven’t seen before in any other FPS, with the exception of two: one that can shoot through walls and another whose bullets can track a target around corners. You won’t be able to travel to wherever you want to either like you did in the previous games, but will only be whisked away to exotic locals if the story permits it. The game is much more linear, shootier and turns the hacking mini-games into single-click, wait-’em-out-before-they-shoot-you-out time crunchers.

When I was playing this game however, there was one game that kept coming to mind whenever I attempted a cyber-brain hack or a corporate infiltration (which was able as subtle as a shotgun shell through a door and I’m not kidding about that), that game being Deus Ex 3 (or Deus Ex: Human Revolution if you insist on it). Syndicate not only was trying to make you forget all about the previous, much better versions that came before it, but also the fact that a much better cyberpunk game from last year was still on the market. It had all the aspects of a Deus Ex game, without the open-endedness of the story-line or gameplay. Though it might be fairer to state that Syndicate is probably the best sequel that Perfect Dark 64 never got, it doesn’t even have repertoire of choice in weapons and gadgets that justify the label. It was almost depressing playing this game as it tried to so hard to impress me. Trying so hard to awe me with its graphics, trying to so hard to pull my heartstrings with Kilo’s tragic past, trying to throw as many flashy explosions and sleek skylines at me as humanly possible. It was like a younger, less competent child, attempting to outdo their much older, smarter and beautiful sibling, and like any good parent I was going to validate Syndicate’s need to feel special. However, I could only bring to give it just enough attention so that it may feel just a little less hopeless about its disposition all the while giving Deus Ex the preferred treatment behind Syndicate’s back. I probably shouldn’t go into parenting.

First Draft of Novel: Completed

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It has been a long and grueling process. Two months of research, sixteen months of writing, eighteen months of work. 84,885 words: 126 pages single spaced, 246 words double spaced. It’s done. However, it’s not done-done. I still have editing and revising to do. There will be many more drafts before the final manuscript; but at least I can say I got this far and I’m one step closer to completing my novel…I think I’m probably going to go take a nap now, lol. Bye!

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