*I received an ecopy of this book via NetGalley. This has not influenced my review.*
I’m new to the cyberpunk genre, but I’ve been wanting to give it more of a try, and this one sounded good. Unfortunately, although the book was well-written, I struggled to really get into it.
So, this book was a cyberpunk/alternate history mash-up set in the early 90s in a different version of the U.S. with a kind of bleak feel. That was pretty neat, but, because the world was so different, there was A LOT of description of settings, science and technology, and the alternate world (history, backstory, politics, businesses, religion, geography, etc.). Also, every chapter started with a statement of some sort, like a press statement, an excerpt from a magazine article, something from Victor’s psychiatrist, or something else from the world of the book. On the one hand, I admired all the depth and detail because it’s clear this was a well thought-out world and story. But on the other hand, I’m someone who almost never skims, and I skimmed over most that that stuff. The good news though is that, even though I felt like the descriptions and history bogged down the story some, you don’t need to understand all those details in order to still understand the story and can skim like I did if you want to.
I also felt that the book was rather slow-paced, especially in the beginning. The flashbacks didn’t help with that, but thankfully those eventually stopped.
Something I’m kind of torn about is the characters. They were complex, but most of them weren’t particularly likeable. Elena was a judgmental jerk; she thought of Victor as a second-class citizen because of his mental illness (that’s how they were treated by society, and that’s not her fault, but she herself also thought that at one point), “watching him struggle made her feel more alive,” she referred to him as “insane” at one point, she lied to him, and she blamed him for the fact that she got addicted to stims (a drug) and then blamed him when she got addicted again because “living with a person with MRS should be classified as a medical condition meriting the strongest prescription available.” Tosh was a creepy pervert. Ozie was manipulative and secretive. Victor’s family just dismissed him because of his mental illness and wouldn’t listen to him even when he had proof of things. Granfa Jeff, even in death, managed to be cryptic even though it seems that just telling people things would’ve saved a whole lot of trouble. Even people on the street and in public places were jerks. I think Chico may have been my favorite character despite the fact that he had like three lines, all of which were said while he was bleeding out from a knife wound.
Then again, I shouldn’t be complaining since I often feel characters in books are too nice and perfect, and these were just legitimately flawed, like real people (although thankfully I don’t know any real people like Tosh). And Victor (the main character and therefore the most important one) was a good character because I could sympathize with him and even relate in some ways, so he was likeable in that way even though he was flawed.
Last but not least, another good thing about the book was that there was a lot of focus on mental illness. Victor’s illness was a fictional one, it seemed kind of like a cross between synesthesia and schizophrenia with a touch of empath ability, so you won’t learn about actual mental illness from reading this, but the reactions and stigma toward his illness and the way he was treated because of it felt realistic.
So all in all, this was maybe not quite for me, but it had a very in-depth, thought-out alternate world and realistic, legitimately flawed characters, and I can see other readers who like both these things being able to sink into the book!
Cyberpunk/alternate history readers and/or anyone who likes very in-depth alternate worlds, a fair amount of science and tech in their sci-fi, and flawed characters.