SOPHISTICATION by Matt Casamassina


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A thriller tells the story of an America rattled by a mysterious, technologically advanced group threatening to take over the country.

In the not-so-distant future—the Donald Trump administration is over and the video game “Half-Life 4” is about to be released—a cloaked figure appears on the floor of the Senate to offer a cryptic warning: “In one month, your ineffective order ends. In one month, we take over.…Everything.” He then disappears in a ball of blue light, causing a media frenzy of speculation the likes of which has never been seen. As the lone member of the government’s Unexplained Occurrences Division—whose duties until now have mostly entailed cataloging internet rumors and watching pornography—widower and drug addict Carl Brannigan is placed on the task force assembled to find out just what that cloaked man was talking about. Meanwhile, an enigmatic figure enters the hospital room of a quadriplegic boy named Kevin Splinter and, with a mere touch, cures him of his condition. In San Francisco, 23-year-old freelance video game journalist Miyuki Mitsuraga spends most of her time fielding misogynistic hate mail from male gamers, but she’s just gotten a message from “the ones in the news” asking her for a meeting. After the arrival of cloaked figures at a stadium in San Francisco, where they reveal damaging tapes of the city’s mayor, the strange organization offers Miyuki an interview because her “heart is pure.” The Cloaks, as she names them, claim to be a good government group out to expose corruption and injustice. But it turns out to be a little more complicated than that. With alternate realities, alien civilizations, and city-destroying technology in the mix, this disparate band of outsiders—and a few powerful insiders—must race to figure out what’s coming before it gets here.

Casamassina’s (Dead Weight, 2016) prose is voice-driven and inflected with numerous details of his cyberpunk-meets–Comic-Con vision of the future. His attempts at snark often come across more misanthropic than perhaps he means them to—a viral video is described as spreading across the internet “like runaway Gonorrhea at a cheap motel”—but he occasionally reaches moments of lyricism. At one point, Miyuki’s entrance into a club is depicted thusly: “She’s in harmony with these people, all of them dressed like the mutant teenage grandchildren of the industrial and anime gods. Here, she can disappear. The black lights cast them all in periwinkle, their teeth luminescent, their skin paints and contact lenses aglow, until they look alien.” The plot is well-paced and quite riveting, and once the storylines of the various characters begin to intersect and the scope of the conflict reveals itself, readers should become thoroughly invested. The author manages to capture the worldviews, interests, and personalities of gamers in ways both good and bad, but the story has enough broad sci-fi appeal to hook readers who aren’t concerned with that subculture. While the narrative is bloody, profane, jocular, and angst-ridden, an unexpected warmth pervades the work that will likely keep readers with it until the end.

An ambitious and mostly successful sci-fi tale with a bit of social critique.

Pub Date: Dec. 17th, 2018
ISBN: 978-1-79187-080-5
Page count: 520pp
Publisher: Self
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2019


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