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.