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Cyberpunk Book Review: The Wrath of Leviathan

Cyberpunk Book Review: The Wrath of Leviathan (BetterWorld trilogy #2)

The Wrath of Leviathan is book two of the BetterWorld Trilogy by T.C. Weber, which is available on Amazon now as part of the three-book set called The War for Reality. It continues the story of the Cyberpunk crew from book one, this time set mostly in Brazil but also covering what happens to Waylee as she’s left to fend mostly for herself back in the US. Wrath of Leviathan is based on the crew’s attempts to avoid the wrath of BetterWorld and the US government after the events of Sleep State Interrupt unfolded. As a result, it continues with the thrilling, oppressive atmosphere of our heroes being on the run, but this time includes a villain’s perspective. Also, some spoilers ahead since I’ll be referencing a couple things that happened in book 1, so be warned!

Still Varied, Some Old, Some New

Wrath of Leviathan has a couple new characters that play a major part, while leaving some old characters we saw from Sleep State Interrupt left behind (like M’Pat, Dingo, and Shakti). We also get to know Kiyoko much better, as she’s become the main character of sorts and has her own arc, while Waylee has a lot less to do this time around. Secondary characters remain Charles and Pel, but they’re still central to the story as well.

The cast in order of importance/relevance are Kiyoko, Gabriel, Pel, Charles, Waylee, and Dalton Crowley (the new villain of Wrath of Leviathan). While the main villain’s character seemed relatively shallow, his motivations were believable enough and his cold, vicious nature made him a compelling villain. And although the bodyguard Gabriel’s motivations felt somewhat surprising, I really enjoyed the action and agency that he brought to the story.

Going from the Offensive to the Defensive

There was a lot less of BetterWorld, the virtual online world, in Wrath of Leviathan. Most of this novel was set in Brazil, where Charles, Pelopidas, and Kiyoko are living in exile with newcomer to the team, Brazilian local and bodyguard Gabriel. The parallel narrative, meanwhile, follows Waylee in jail as she copes with being a prisoner and attempts to prepare for her upcoming trial.

Like book 1, there was still some hacking present, but considerably less so. This made sense from a narrative standpoint, but it also unfortunately made the novel feel a little more removed from the standard cyberpunk genre than the first one did. There’s less hacking and less subversion in general as the crew simply try to stay alive, while mostly living abroad in a new country that’s (mostly) friendly or neutral to them.

The New Setting: Sao Paolo

While the first novel had a very strong sense of paranoia and suspense, this novel had more of a sense of cat-and-mouse action mixed with a background sense of despair. The reason for this is that we are given access to the villain’s mind and his thoughts. As a result, when he acts against the main characters, it’s never a surprise, since we’ve already read Crowley’s plans up until that point. On the other hand, it also means we get to revel in seeing Crowley’s frustrations when the team outflanks him in whatever ways they can. Allowing the reader this kind of omnipotent understanding of what was going on was definitely fun at times. The background sense of despair, however, is telegraphed through Waylee’s thoughts and limited options as she mostly languishes in her prison cell for most of the novel. This really helps build up MediaCorp as a kind of undefeatable enemy, especially when the police and government are working on MediaCorp’s behalf. Which I’m hoping will lead to a more satisfying end or comeuppance for MediaCorp in book 3, hopefully.

Final Verdict: 7.5/10

T.C. Weber’s strengths continue to lie in his pacing, storytelling, and varied cast of believable characters. Wrath of Leviathan is a fun story filled with its fair share of intrigue and action, but if you want a 100% cyberpunk story filled with VR, hacking, and future tech, Wrath of Leviathan probably isn’t what you’re looking for. This novel definitely continues to feel very punk at times, but if I had to sum up the story in one sentence, it would be that it’s a tale on how to watch your back while living in a foreign country as a political refugee. I liked the more developed action scenes compared to Sleep State Interrupt, they were a lot of fun to read and definitely a welcome change. Weber also finally starts writing some sex and more romance into his novel, although on the whole it’s all still relatively PG-13, nothing too gory or explicit like you might find in Altered Carbon or other more mature novels.

So make sure you don’t miss reading this fun on-the-run cyberpunk tale, and if you’ve already read it, let me know what you thought of the book in the comments below!

P.S. One of the many fun additional features you can find on T.C. Weber’s page includes a kickass recipe on how to make the perfect Caipirinha, that staple Brazilian cocktail! You can check it out here:

https://www.tcweber.com/how-to-make-a-capirinha

And as always, if you liked what you read and want to help the Cyberpunk Matrix going, you can show your support over on Ko-Fi. Help contribute to the costs of website upkeep, or simply buy me a simu-latte. https://ko-fi.com/cyberpunkmatrix

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Top 5 Cyberpunk books you should read in 2022

Top 5 Cyberpunk books you should read in 2022

2022 is looking to be quite an ominous year, with plenty of dire headlines to read. But if you’d like a different kind of ominous, or perhaps a dystopian series of fiction to go with your Cyberpunk reality, then we here at Cyberpunk Matrix have you covered. Here are our top 5 Cyberpunk books you should read in 2022.

2022 Cyberpunk Book #5: Second Variety by Philip K Dick (1953, novelette)

Technically pre-Cyberpunk, Philip K Dick does a masterful job of writing both novels and short stories with believable, interesting characters while also somehow being very easy to read with compelling dialogue. It’s hard to choose from his 44 novels and 121 short stories (he was a prolific writer during his life), but Second Variety is one of his more popular and well-known novelettes.

Second Variety reads and feels a bit like a Black Mirror episode. It’s an eerie, perhaps prescient story of a battle between Americans and Russians, which feels a little apropos for our times here in 2022, but is also about paranoia and androids.

Set in a dystopian future, the story starts off with a group of American soldiers sitting in the trenches on Earth in the middle of a very long, drawn-out war with the Russians. At some point, the Americans were able to develop a technologically advanced set of robots called Claws that burrow into the ground and attack any living flesh they can. The Americans, who apparently developed the line of robots, are protected from the claws by radioactive “tabs” signalling that they aren’t the enemy.

As one Russian soldier tries to cross no-man’s land and inevitably dies to the Claws, the Americans recover a message from the soldier asking for a chance to negotiate a cease-fire. This leads to the American leader deciding to cross no-man’s land to the Russian trenches in order to do so, when he discovers that the robots the Americans had developed have learned to self-develop, resulting in a Second Variety of robots that take on a human appearance in order to kill their prey.

What happens next is an incredibly thrilling tale of a dystopian future as humans fight against robots, and themselves, as they try to determine who the threats really are.

You can read my more complete review about the short story, which was part of a series of stories, here.

2022 Cyberpunk Book #4: Ready Player One (2011) by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One was Ernest Cline’s first book, and an instant success. So much so that it was adapted into a live action movie directed by Steven Spielberg, which is also excellent. In stark contrast to Second Variety, Ready Player One reads like a gaming nerd’s fever dream. It’s filled with pop culture references to the 1970s and 1980s, and describes in eager detail the process of a gamer grinding through levels to become good at retro, simple videogames. However, it does this while set in a somewhat dystopian future where much of the world lives their lives in a virtual world called the Oasis, much like Mark Zuckerberg’s vision of what he wants Meta to be.

You should read Ready Player One in 2022 for its depiction of virtual reality alone, especially considering this image of the future was brought onto the silver screen to allow us to truly picture what it may look like.

In true Cyberpunk fashion, Ready Player One is set in a world with massive wealth inequality, and on the bottom rung of that ladder is Wade Watts, the protagonist of the story. He lives in a trailer park where the trailers are stacked one on top of the other in Columbus, Ohio, and spends his time in the Oasis until the founder of this virtual reality world, James Halliday, dies. His death sets off a massive easter egg hunt where anyone within the Oasis must find 3 keys with clues leading them to egg itself, which is a prize bestowing on the finder a huge sum of money, as well as over 50% of the shares of the company that runs the Oasis itself, thus effectively giving ownership to the company. Wade teams up with a motley crew of fellow nerds to be the first to the egg in order to save the Oasis from the nefarious IOI industries, who want to turn the Oasis into a marketing nightmare.

One thing this book did really well was describe the advantages a virtual reality could have for society as a whole, an unusual thing to accomplish within a cyberpunk story. While definitely showing the potential for harm if the megacorporation were to gain control, the book also describes how low-income students were able to access state-run online classes, and virtually receive a bully-free education as a result.

I went into more of the potential ramifications of this in a short review on the blog here.

Cline also wrote a sequel to RPO, called Ready Player Two, which I liked well enough but was apparently panned by many critics. Nonetheless, the sequel takes the next logical step forward with the technology of VR immersion, along with the dark possibilities and ramifications therewith, and is well worth the read.

2022 Cyberpunk Book #3: Altered Carbon by Richard K Morgan

Like many, I learned about this novel after watching the first season of the Netflix series by the same name. A thrilling classic film-noir style cyberpunk story, Altered Carbon is set in the dystopian future of 2384 where consciousness and memories are kept on small metal discs, called cortical stacks, that are implanted into the stem of the vertebrae in humans when they are young. When any human dies, their cortical stack can be put into another body where the human consciousness can live on, but if their stack is also destroyed, this  results in a permanent death. However, this also means that certain humans with enough wealth can effectively live forever, through the use of human clones and uploading their consciousness to a cloud server via satellite. These elite god-like humans are called Meths, in reference to Methuselah who according to the myth lived for 1000 years.

The main character is Takeshi Kovacs, the last remaining elite soldier of the envoys, a rebel group who were defeated trying to overthrow the new world order. The  the story starts when one particularly wealthy meth, Laurens Bancroft, decides to take Takeshi’s stack out of prison storage and put it into a new body 250 years after the uprising, so that Takeshi may solve the mystery of Laurens’ own (body) death.

What follows is a wild story filled with suspense, intrigue, action, and admittedly sexual scenes (so be warned!) But the book is well worth the read, not only for its entertaining qualities, but also for its on-point depiction of absurd wealth inequality and digital immortality. There are two other novels that follow in the Kovacs trilogy, but the  sequels are nothing like the original.

2022 Cyberpunk Book #2: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K Dick

Despite it being written so long ago (1968), Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep always seems to pop up in any proper Cyberpunk must-read book list. It’s an incredible tale featuring worldwide animal extinction, mass shared sensory experiences, and the blurred line between humanity and androids.

While having inspired the classic Blade Runner movie from Ridley Scott, the plot is actually significantly different. The story follows Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter for the San Francisco Police Department, who has a simple desire in life: he desperately wants to buy and own a real live animal, to replace his electric sheep and maybe cheer up his wife Iran. Meanwhile, duty calls, which in this case is his assignment to “retire” (kill) six androids who escaped Mars and are hiding somewhere on Earth. These androids are new, highly intelligent “nexus-6” variants that are almost impossible to tell from real humans. As Deckard pursues his leads, he meets Rachael Rosen, who works for the Rosen association that manufactures the new lifelike androids. What follows is a mysterious tale where the theme is, more often than not, a constant questioning of characters on whether they themselves are androids, and how they would even know if they were.

This novel is worth reading not only for the classic question of how human androids can be, and how robotic humans can be, but also for its depictions of a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by climate change. It also has an interesting bit about a worldwide cultural and religious icon, whose experiences can be relived through special technology by the masses, which feels oddly familiar to the direction our social media is taking us with YouTube, TikTok, Instagram and Twitter.

2022 Cyberpunk Book #1: Snowcrash by Neil Stephenson

And our #1 Cyberpunk Book to read in 2022? Snowcrash by Neil Stephenson. Both Cyberpunk and a parody of Cyberpunk in one, Stephenson was the author who coined the term Metaverse decades before Mark Zuckerberg decided to take the name for Facebook. Similar to Ready Player One but predating that novel (as Snow Crash came out in 1992), this novel really has it all: drugs (including cyber-drugs), megacorporations, VR worlds, crazy real-world tech including nukes, cyborgs, viruses, levitating skateboards, and even italian mob-run pizza delivery companies!

Snowcrash is set in a 21st century L.A. after a worldwide economic collapse, and the world is no longer run by governments but instead by corporations. The novel follows the story of Hiro Protagonist (yes, that’s the main character’s actual name) who is a hacker and pizza deliverer for the mafia. On a particular delivery where he fails to get the pizza delivered on time, he runs into Y.T., a courier who agrees to help him deliver his pizza for him. They decide to team up. Meanwhile, in the Metaverse, one of Hiro’s friends Da5id is given a datafile but when he looks at the image, it causes the computer to crash and lands Da5id in a coma. It’s up to Hiro and Y.T. to slowly investigate what and how this deadly virus, this Snowcrash, works, before it causes a worldwide systems crash and millions perish.

The amount of technology and content in this novel is truly phenomenal, the things I’ve mentioned happened above only scratch the surface of what actually happens in the novel. The thing that I loved about this novel is that it has great dialogue, excellent world-building, a very punkish and irreverent tone, and actually exciting action sprinkled throughout with insane and very creative high-tech.

So do yourself a favor and read Snowcrash in 2022, and see for yourself the origins of the term “Metaverse”, and why having a world run by private security and megacorporations would be a terrible thing indeed.

Thoughts on Top 5 Cyberpunk Books to Read in 2022

So these were our top 5 Cyberpunk books to read in 2022. But what did you think? Would have another order, did I omit a book that you think I should have included? Let us know in the comments below.

And as always, if you liked what you read and want to help the Cyberpunk Matrix going, you can show your support over on Ko-Fi. Help contribute to the costs of website upkeep, or simply buy me a simulatte. https://ko-fi.com/cyberpunkmatrix

Cyberpunk Book Review: Sleep State Interrupt

Cyberpunk Book Review: Sleep State Interrupt (BetterWorld trilogy #1)

Sleep State Interrupt is book one of the BetterWorld Trilogy by T.C. Weber, which is available on Amazon now as part of the three-book set called The War for Reality. It follows a motley Cyberpunk crew of characters set in a more near-future but focuses on Waylee, an ambitious but downtrodden, recently unemployed, Baltimore journalist who wants to bring down the oppressive corporations around her to help change the world for the better. To do so, however, she will have to enlist the help of Charles, an amateur teenage hacker who just recently wound up in juvenile detention.

Less High-tech, more Low-Life Hacking & Journalistic Espionage

BetterWorld is an advanced version of our present-day Metaverse. It’s a place where people shop, make friends, play games, and interact in a virtual world, a bit like Ready Player One. And just like Ready Player One, there’s high-tech and low-tech immersion gear, depending on how wealthy the user is. But unlike Ready Player One, a lot of the action in this novel takes place in the real world, while only a small number of things happens in the BetterWorld virtual universe. I like reading a variety of near-future and distant-future cyberpunk tales, so this was a nice variation for me. In this sense Sleep State Interrupt felt a lot closer to our current world, and a lot less high-tech as the technology described doesn’t feel so far-fetched at all. There are data glasses that record (much like Google Glass was supposed to be) but other than that, very little cyborgs or advanced tech you might find in similar Cyberpunk stories like Ghost in the Shell. And so far, no androids to speak of (we’ll see if any pop up in books 2 or 3 of the trilogy).

But where the novel lacked in high-tech, it made up for in low-life punk hacking. The novel is filled with hacking jargon and events, which makes sense considering the plot surrounds the team breaking a hacker out of juvie to help them with the greatest hack of all time to expose the malicious plans that the mega-corporations have. Distributed Denial of Service (DDOS) attacks, server rooms, malware and viruses, clone and shadow programs running routines and subroutines within the BetterWorld network…it was great reading a hack-focused cyberpunk novel with language I could actually understand. For those that aren’t familiar with the lingo, the novel does a great job explaining the terms as the lead hackers explain what they’re doing to the other non-hackers of the group.

A Fun, Varied Cast

Unlike other Cyberpunk novels that tend to focus on just a couple main characters (such as Neuromancer, Ready Player One, Snowcrash, etc.) Sleep State Interrupt has a very fun, believable, and varied cast. And although I pictured them differently in my head, Ted Weber actually commissioned an artist to create digital renderings of what they look like, so take a look for yourself.

 

The cast in order clockwise are Waylee, Pelopidas, Shakti, Dingo, M’Patanashi, Kiyoko, and Charles. Each one has their own motivations, eccentricities, strengths and weaknesses. The novel’s chapters are often labeled with one of these seven characters, which gives the reader a chance to understand which point of view they are reading from, but also to follow different characters to understand them. While other writers might struggle with this writing style, Weber is able to make this work, as a lot of the story unfolds with the members above all living and working together at the time. So the change in perspective or storyline isn’t confusing, and the reader is able to follow along and also understand the thoughts or emotions of each character, without the story feeling too explanatory or confusing.

A Strong Sense of Paranoia and Suspense

While there is some action in this novel, the main overwhelming feeling in the story is a strong sense of paranoia and suspense. I’ve never felt quite as uneasy (in a good way) following the characters in a story as I have with Sleep State Interrupt. Ever since the team bust the hacker out of juvie (which happens at the beginning of the novel), from that point on the authorities are hot on their tail, and the reader really feels it. It makes one imagine what it must have felt like for the likes of Edward Snowden to be on the run from the government.

Author T.C. Weber

Final Verdict: 8.5/10

With a steady pacing, good writing, a varied cast and an interesting storyline, T.C. Weber’s Sleep State Interrupt is a Cyberpunk novel that you won’t want to miss. It’s a brilliant futuristic hacker story, and a fun thriller for those who enjoy that style. My only complaint might be it lacks a little imagination or depth of ideas, but that only applies if you like stories set in a distant future, so it’s not even something that I can really hold against the book, it just explains why I’m not giving the novel a perfect 10. I prefer more futuristic tech and brutal action (a la Altered Carbon), but that’s just a personal preference.

So make sure you don’t miss reading this fun hacker tale, and if you’ve already read it, let me know what you thought of the book in the comments below!

P.S. Many of the main characters are members of a band called Dwarf Eats Hippo. On Weber’s website you can find a fun interview of the band here.

And as always, if you liked what you read and want to help the Cyberpunk Matrix going, you can show your support over on Ko-Fi. Help contribute to the costs of website upkeep, or simply buy me a simulatte. https://ko-fi.com/cyberpunkmatrix

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Cyberpunk Review: The New Prometheus (Andrew Dobell)

 

The New Prometheus: A fast-paced Cyberpunk thriller

The New Prometheus is the first novel of the 5-book series of the same name by Andrew Dobell, a Cyberpunk series starring Frankie, an unwilling cyborg who wakes up one day with a human brain and cyborg body after a ruthless attack. Thrust into a fight against the mega-corporations that control her world, she teams up with local detective Gibson to regain a semblance of normalcy and freedom from the corporations who will stop at nothing to regain their property.

Familiar Cyberpunk Influences

The influences for this author here aren’t subtle. Detective Gibson is clearly inspired by William Gibson, writer of Neuromancer, which helped start the Cyberpunk genre. The main character, Frankie, also seems to be almost a perfect copy of the Major from Ghost in the Shell. Both of which are excellent influences to have, so I don’t blame him.

Nonstop fast-paced action

The strength of Dobell’s novel, which isn’t his first but is the first of his cyberpunk and sci-fi novels, is definitely the way he writes his action and pacing. I loved reading his descriptions of the weapons, armor, cyber-hacking, and mechs, as well as how each one of these are used or destroyed as the story progresses. This novel was hard for me to put down, with a fun fast pace and non-stop action, his writing flowed easily and it was a very fun read.

Likeable, if simple, characters

Dobell writes Frankie and Gibson in a way that makes them easy to like, and quick for the reader to care about their safety, which is great. There were moments where I felt shocked when the main characters get hurt, or seem about to get hurt, which showed I really felt and sympathized for them.

But beyond that, I felt disappointed by the lack of complexity I saw in the characters. Dobell has a tendency to explain to the reader how his characters are feeling and thinking, instead of showing his readers and trusting them to figure it out on their own. This, along with dialogue from the characters that lacked too much distinction from each other, made the characters seem rather simple. I liked the nuance Dobell brought to Frankie’s character as she considered her torn feelings about being in her new cyborg body, but the motivations behind Gibson, the doctor, and other characters they run into along the way felt lacking. I felt this especially when Gibson decides to help Frankie–like there needed to be more behind why he decided to do what he did.

Interesting new High Tech

What I really liked about this story was Dobell’s depiction of nanobots and cyborg implants being a corporation’s property, extending the lives of its citizens but only as long as they kept the payments coming. Corporations demanding their bio-property back isn’t a new concept, but nanobots being accessed remotely or being hacked was a fun new concept for me to read, and a grim warning of what our future may one day look like. Which is exactly what Cyberpunk is supposed to be.

Final Verdict: 7/10

Andrew Dobell’s The New Prometheus is a by-the-numbers Cyberpunk thriller, a fun, fast paced ride, but with some forgettable characters and at times lacking depth. It’s a good start to a fun promising story, though, and I look forward to reading more from Andrew Dobell in the future. Perhaps in his later books he will flesh out an already promising plot, improving both the depth and quality of the story.

And as always, if you liked what you read and want to help the Cyberpunk Matrix going, you can show your support over on Ko-Fi. Help contribute to the costs of website upkeep, or simply buy me a simulatte. https://ko-fi.com/cyberpunkmatrix

Cyberpunk Book Review: Tropical Punch (Bubbles in Space #1)

Cyberpunk Review: Bubbles in Space #1 — Tropical Punch

Tropical Punch is a cyberpunk tech-noir murder mystery written by Sarah C. Jensen, featuring “Bubbles Marlowe”, an irreverent private eye with a robotic arm and who loves chewing bubble gum, which apparently is an important detail since every book in the Bubbles in Space series (Chew ’em Up, Pop ’em One, and Spit ’em Out) seems to reference chewing gum. Or perhaps it’s a cheeky play on words with the author and her readers, setting the tone for the books themselves. If so, it’s brilliant and hilarious, much like the majority of this book.

A Fun Cyberpunk Setting and Sidekick

Bubbles is an ex-cop private detective who is given a seemingly easy job: to deliver a message to a girl in HoloCity. Once she finds her, though, everything seems to go wrong, and she quickly finds herself inextricably caught up in a confusing murder mystery to solve which leads her right on board an inter-galactic cruise liner. By her side  is her trusty android pig, Hammett, a cute wise-cracking robot with the ability to hack into systems and who serves as a reliable sidekick to Bubbles.

A Fast-Paced Page-Turner

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Tropical Punch and, much to my surprise, it was a page-turner that I finished in record time. I simply couldn’t put it down. Starting in the rain-soaked neon streets of HoloCity before going to the rich people’s space cruise, I loved the themes of income inequality, corrupt cops, cybernetics, religious zealots, and advanced tech in a noir-detective style.

Meme credit: S.C. Jensen

A Female SF Lead written by a Female SF Author

Another thing I definitely enjoyed was reading a novel with a female protagonist written by a female science fiction writer, for once. So much of the Cyberpunk novels I’ve read, from Snowcrash to Neuromancer, from Total Recall to Altered Carbon, have all been written by men with male protagonists. The Cyberpunk that I know and love, however, is more diverse than that. So we need writers like Sarah Jensen to continue lending her voice and her characters in order to fill the cyberpunk canvas with more complex, interesting characters. Bubbles is a recovering alcoholic, for example, which was inspired from Jensen’s own personal struggles with alcohol addiction.

Meme Credit: S.C. Jensen

Final Verdict: 9/10

What stopped this book from getting a full 10/10 mark was the fact that once I finished it, I didn’t feel like I had a deep awakening or a new insight on life or anything. It’s not the kind of book that really sticks with you. Rather, it a fun, light-hearted, fast read that hits all the right Cyberpunk marks. It actually felt rather reminiscent of the Harry Dresden Files books. If you like Harry Dresden but wished he were more Cyberpunk, then look no further than Bubbles Marlowe. And even if you don’t, I highly recommend this enjoyable read for the funny one-liners, great cyberpunk elements, top-notch writing, and the refreshing female perspective. I for one can’t wait to read the rest of this series! Book 5 should be out by the end of the year 2021. Books 1-4 are available now on Amazon via paperback, kindle, and kindle unlimited.