In Pausback’s apocalyptic debut thriller, a deadly hacker unleashes a virus that threatens to delete the human species.
Roughly a century in the future, a convergence of wars, disease, and disasters called “the Great Upheaval” kills a third of mankind. As “the corporate elite” takes over for failed governments, survivors dwell in an age of techno-wonders and incipient nightmares. Robots and drones do grunt work, and a global corporation, OmniaR, has created a vast artificial intelligence called BESI (which stands for “bioengineered, synthetic intelligence”). Human teleportation is a reality, and a technique called “remolecularization” has enabled the digital reduction of any matter, including living people, to two-dimensional storage. It allows the easy colonization of planets, but it’s also bad news for poor and genetically undesirable people, who are summarily digitized off the map. One technological innovation, however, is most salient to this book’s plot: every person has an implanted “life chip” that permits constant monitoring by those in power. Soon after rebel hackers attack the corporate paradigm, compromised life chips start infecting people with a synthetic version of the Ebola virus. Top cop Jake Kepler combats a lethal, enigmatic super-hacker called Brimstone and his virtually limitless minions: a commandeered army of security/military robots. Other authors might have relayed this doomsday scenario in a multivolume saga of doorstop-sized tomes (à la Justin Cronin) or skimmed through the mayhem lightly, like a movie-adaptation hired gun. Pausback takes a middle path; sometimes he’s generous with description and dialogue, and other times he’s parsimonious, with billions perishing in a space of a few paragraphs. Characterizations suffer in this uneven mix, with Kepler registering mainly as a Schwarzeneggerian he-man archetype, complete with a cranky superior chewing him out (“Damn it Kepler. Why the hell can’t you just be normal and teleport like the rest of us?!”). But once the narrative properly boots into action mode, it becomes as addictive as a hit video game. Its especially satisfying sequence of endings and epilogues may remind readers of an old computer term: “graceful exit.”
A fast-paced, if occasionally buggy, cyberthriller with some nail-biting passages.