An anime-esque novel set in a dystopian world, with psychics and nanotechnology.
Uesugi’s offering, the prologue to a multibook series, is contemporary futurism. Sub-culture kids have exasperating hairstyles and wear ripped jeans and T-shirts. The bulk of the action takes place on a map that’s a dead ringer for Lower Manhattan, down to the borrowed street names: “Astor,” “Lafayette” and “Canal.” The difference is that in Uesugi’s world, two draconian coalition governments—the Atlantea Federation and the insurgent but equally severe Pacific Territories—rule global territories devastated by conflict. Fallout from “kedek” energy warfare saw the emergence of psychic abilities, teleportation, telepathy, and geothermal and mind–body manipulation. In the Pacific Territories, corporate and government powers work together, while psychics suffer systematic oppression if not capture and experimentation by a covert defense group called the Psi Faction. Psychic refugees collect in red-light slums, shoot up with ability-normalizing drugs and “hack” using bio-nanotechnologies to interface with computer systems through a jack implanted in the head. Flat but energetic storytelling, in a chapter structure similar to a manga, follows a dozen or so of these young psychics—mostly male, mostly gay—as they fight for survival, freedom and control of their abilities. Character backstories dictate behavior: Lino, son of the viceroy, is a Psi Faction conscript; Faid, a dashing, devil-may-care drug addict founds a psychic-hacker haven; and Blue, a test subject since early childhood, is transgender, erratic and easily disturbed. The book is visually and emotionally driven, written in bald, direct prose—short lines, no midsentence punctuation. The novel feels more like Full Metal Alchemist than Dragon Ball Z, and imagery evokes Ghost in the Shell and the 1995 flick Hackers. Fans of these titles should enjoy Uesugi’s book, with the possible caveat of its casual treatment of drugs and sex. The story’s political and technological foundations are vanilla for the genre, and Uesugi’s heroes, the psychics, can serve as proxy for any marginalized group, although many of them are gay, drug-using prostitutes. (Uesugi employs one of the more pleasant euphemisms for prostitute: “host.”) Maybe the hetero-testosterone world of Japanese inspired, combat-fueled fiction needs some strung-out, homosexual heroes. Uesugi’s are certainly powerful and courageous.
A multilayered, mildly provocative, B-level sci-fi adventure.