STRANGE FLESH by Michael Olson


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Sex, lies and video all play a role in the unraveling of a lusty, gifted hacker.

Readers can choose their poison in this richly composed slab of transgressive fiction by debut novelist Olson—say, a healthy measure of Neal Stephenson crossed with a slice of Warren Ellis with a serious splash of Nicholson Baker’s sex novels. Crossing the barrier between sex, games and virtual reality, the book is likely to be the only Marquis de Sade–influenced thriller this year. It starts with a bit of Social Network aristocracy, introducing narrator James Pryce, a Harvard-educated social engineer with exclusive security firm Red Rook. “We Socials believe that a bug in your firewall program, once discovered, can be patched in minutes, but the software running the human brain will stay broken forever,” muses the hacker. James’ talents have been especially requested by twin media moguls Blake Randall and his sister Blythe, with whom Pryce has a troubled, heated history. Their brother Billy, a rogue performance artist of sorts, has gone missing with the threat to bring down their empire. James is tasked with infiltrating Billy’s playground, GAME, a high-tech artists’ colony whose home base is a virtual-reality simulation called NOD. Once inside, James meets a voracious Russian femme fatale who introduces him to her click’s secret project, “Imminent Teledildonics,” a state-of-the-art sex simulation. Meanwhile, Billy’s avatar is inspiring a wildly complex chase through NOD inspired by The 120 Days of Sodom. It all gets to be a bit much for James, whose clever asides neatly cool the wrought-iron tension of the plot. “Maybe I need to take measures to get my personal shit together,” he wonders. “Tamp down the Byronic passions I’m starting to feel for this tarted-up vacuum cleaner.” For readers with a penchant for this volatile mix of sex, violence and technology, the payoff is rich indeed.

A profane, heady thriller more startling and compelling than its individual components and influences might demonstrate.


Pub Date: April 3rd, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-4516-2757-2
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 2012


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