A sci-fi thriller explores stolen technology and a hacktivist determined to guide humanity’s evolution.
This tale begins at a U.S. Air Force base in Afghanistan. Airman Donald Westlake, a recent convert to skinhead metal music, exits the barracks armed for combat. With violent lyrics screaming through his headphones, he begins shooting Afghani soldiers stationed at the base until he is killed by a fellow airman. Meanwhile, in Austin, Texas, hacktivist Tom Ayana orchestrates flash mob events from the “cyber command center” in his mother’s house. These incidents, which interrupt the lives of unsuspecting citizens in places like San Antonio’s Woodland Park, result in risqué demonstrations and a thrilling sense of connectedness among the participants. Under the digital guise of Swarm, Tom encounters the Meta Militia online and is chosen to play with—that is, augment—the zeph.r code, a stolen Department of Defense project designed to modify human behavior. While Tom and his best friend, a DJ named Xander Smith, combine their love of music, mobbing, and cosmic awareness to dominate the electronic dance music scene, Homeland Security agent Jake Duggan starts investigating Westlake’s death. Jake eventually recruits evolutionary biologist Dr. Cara Park—an expert on swarming insects—to help learn the deadly potential of zeph.r. In the latest book by Garcia (The Decline of Men, 2009, etc.), readers are treated to what might be written if the misanthropic author Chuck Palahniuk gave the free-wheeling Thomas Pynchon a blood transfusion. Garcia’s careening prose covers cutting-edge topics, like using mosquitoes to inoculate against malaria, while also espousing the work of “neo-patriots” like Anonymous, who “would save democracy by keeping it honest.” When Tom experiences the fabulously kinetic zeph.r, there’s “a rising, writhing tower of tessellating textures, each one separate yet fused to the others and seething, like a flame.” Though intellectually and politically supercharged, these elements never prevent the characters’ humanity from carrying the narrative. The ambiguous ending glories in the potential of life-altering technology in the hands of a forward-thinking society.
A white-hot ingot of daring, disciplined storytelling that focuses on a dangerous military project.