Skip to main content



Joseph MacKinnon (Guy Faux Books 2014, Trade Paperback) 310 pages, $14.99 cover price

This much is true: One man's science fiction is the next man's informed prediction. Given that pretty much every piece of electronic gadgetry you have bought within the past ten years looks a whole lot like something Gene Roddenberry imagined up over a second bottle of Grape Inspiration in 1966; given that Jules Verne was pretty close to the mark in terms of space capsules, even if firing enormous cannons at the moon hasn't quite happened; and given that the Russians stopped digging the world's deepest bore hole into the Antarctic when they detected an incredibly large cavern below, who is to say that H. Rider Haggard was not in fact a savant? The only difference between a scientist and a science fictionalist is that the former can build while the latter can write. Each to his own imaginative skills and craft.

Cypulchre is described as a cyberpunk novel, for the term science fiction sounds as old-fashioned as a penny farthing bicycle hammering its way along some Victorian village lane. For those who might be new to the term, Wikipedia defines cyberpunk in a neater phrase than I could hope to better: 'high tech and low life.' Well done, anonymous Wikipedia contributor, well done indeed. The origin of the species is likely found in Neuromancer, William Gibson's 1984 novel about the threat of interconnected computers and quite literally plugging people into them. That's the cyber in cyberpunk; with the punk being the lower class hackers who revolt against the machine.

Joseph MacKinnon's Cypulchre follows that same general plot line, with the threat embodied in the Outland Corporation. Outland is well aware of the threat of hackers as follows:

Shouta wipes his brow, and sips his beer. He thumbs the condensation on his stein thoughtfully. 'After the Purge, we went after the hackers, big time. Spies, oligarchs, and saboteurs the lot of these so-called noosphere gods had forgotten about their meat. Now, it was not as simple as sorting them out at one of the cypulchres; most of them synchronized remotely. It would, after all, be foolish to subvert Outland whilst living in an Outland Outpost. Nevertheless, we managed to restrain what was sleeping, and publicly relished in their Titan-fall.'

Who then shall be the savior? In a sort of nod to Adam Roark in The Fountainhead, it falls upon the designer Paul Sheffield to bring this computerized version of the Cortlandt Project to a halt. Paul has retreated from Outland, after realizing its horrors, but now he's back.

The above excerpt also indicates the work required of the reader. One does in a way have to learn, if not a new language, certainly a new dialect. What is a cypulchre, a noosphere, or a Titan-fall? Yes that can be a bit of a problem, yet over the years I have developed a rudimentary test. If there are more than five technobabble terms introduced per chapter, then the author risks sheer annoyance. Thankfully, MacKinnon comes under the ceiling – barely comes under it, but he doesn't bring the laboratory ceiling crashing down on readers' heads.

As a commentary in speculative fiction about our cyber-connected lives, with engaging plotting and many discomforting scenes, Cypulchre is a fine addition to the cyberpunk genre.

Be seeing you.


Popular posts from this blog

The Blocks by Karl Parkinson

The Blocks

Karl Parkinson (New Binary Press 2016, Trade Paperback) 274 pages, cover price N/A

There's a tremendous irony in our lives you know, and it is one as large and predominant as the oxygen we breathe yet equally as invisible, equally ignored; an irony as imperceptible as the blood within our veins that itself only comes to our notice when the skin breaks and the blood trickles free before we hide the wound with a bandage and secure the blood back where it belongs. That irony is this: Our most basic desire, expressed in equal parts of hope and fear, is that we want to continue to live. And why? Because we want our individual lives to be different than what they are.
Karl Parkinson's first novel, The Blocks is a mad, tragic, stylish and daring exploration into that self-same need to survive and yet to change. The Blocks of the title themselves are neither those of the prison nor a child's alphabet; at least not literally although the reader may rightly infer those meta…

Nutshell by Ian McEwan

Ian McEwan (Knopf Canada edition 2016, Hard Cover) 197 pages, $29.95 cover price
We have to talk about the concept first. Oh I had a long and lively internal debate about it, you can be sure of that. After all, all books have concepts that we accept without too much fuss – talking animals, sentient corpses, thought-filled trees, the whole Harrod's bought stuffed menagerie of Winnie the Pooh carrying on like a picnic gathering of the British Women's Institute with special invited guests from the Royal Society of St George – we accept all of those without too much fuss. I've even admitted to sniffing up a tear or two over The Brave Little Toaster, so if one can be moved by a bloody kitchen appliance then why not a sentient foetus as the central character of Ian McEwan's Nutshell?It probably won't surprise you that I have a theory to go with that, slightly more substantial than an amuse-bouche if not quite a meal in itself. My thinking is that we go with the ta…

White and Red Cherries by Tanja Tuma

White and Red Cherries: A Slovenian Civil War Novel

Tanja Tuma (Self-published 2016, Trade paperback) 301 pages with glossary and bibliography, cover price n/a
It dawned on me like a thunder strikes a tree: this petite young girl embodies a mission, her reason to exist. Every one of us embodies his mission by what he does. We are what we do. Not chemical elements, but our deeds define our being. We are neither the faith we trust in God, nor the love we give and take. The least of what we are is the genetic code we get from our parents, which in turn lives on in our descendants. No. We are what we do at this moment in this bloody world. Our deeds can defy eternity. They can mirror our will and freedom forever. Those words are thoughts by the elderly Martin, born during the Second World War and raised by the partisan heroine Valeria Batič as her son, when his natural mother Ada quite literally tossed her baby from a train window to Valeria as the train pulled out for Vienna. Ada you see w…