A debut sci-fi novel focuses on a powerful corporation and its dark quest for control.
Judging by his serious demeanor and his ability to wash Tylenol down with whiskey, Jonathan Romero might seem like any stressed businessman. The company he works for, however, is far from ordinary. With origins that date back to Colonial times and resources that include an immense collection of “occult and philosophical treasures,” the Strand Corporation of Philadelphia engages in activities that even the most morally bankrupt executive might find shocking. Working to steal ideas, patent them, and sell the rights, the company has come a long way from its founding principles. As Romero reflects, rather sourly (particularly as he is suffering from a brain tumor), “The founding fathers of The Strand Society would turn over in their graves if they were to observe the travesty built upon their ideals.” Utilizing people called “Conductors” for “hacking dreams” and a beautiful, H.R. Giger–loving assassin named Macaria to eliminate any threats, Strand has quite the method to its madness. Meanwhile, a writer named Blake William garners the attention of the company, particularly after a former Strand employee named Alex Tannersly (an ex-Conductor whom the corporation has been “hunting” ever since he left) attempts to contact him. William commands success as a writer but he fears he might be losing his mind. What does someone like Alex want with William? Dense with explanation, there is a lot for the reader to absorb. No sooner is Romero finishing his Tylenol than Conductors and a Watcher are being discussed and Macaria’s origins explained. Once things get going, though, the plot is rife with spookiness and “dark atmospheric doom metal.” Incorporating the gothic and the William Gibson–esque, the story reveals that many complex things are possible in this world of dream hacking and murder for hire. While lacking the intricate, futuristic pizazz of Gibson’s Neuromancer, this novel features its share of adventures as well as escalating oddities. A sense of suspense is maintained, allowing readers intrigued by an unlikely hero like William to be decidedly curious as to how this caper will end.
While thick at times, this tale about a sinister company eventually delivers plenty of atmosphere and action.