This review is not exactly part of my judging effort for the SPSFC, but it’s kinda-sorta related. For an intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, you may continue to check out this practice review if you haven’t already.
Today I’m here to talk to you about Ghosts of Tomorrow, by Michael R. Fletcher. This book is competing in SPSFC2 now so I may be getting in ahead of the action if it gets through the first brutal rounds. It didn’t get past the judges for the first iteration of the contest last year, but let’s see. Team Space Lasagna didn’t get a chance to look at it before it was cut anyway, and the SPSFC decided to give early-cut or pre-cut books another shot with different judges this time around, just because. Me, though, I had decided to read this book right back at the start of SPSFC1, based purely on the coolness of the cover. It didn’t win the cover contest, which to this day I consider a travesty and I continue to judge everybody who disagreed with me.
Now there is a brief lull between SPSFC1 and SPSFC2, so here it is. I’ve got just oodles of spare time for a review. So, anyway.
I decided I needed to read this book purely because of the cover, yes. Not generally speaking the most academically sound reasoning, but in this case I have no regrets. I got some fast-paced and brutal Robocop-style dystopian corporate sci-fi into me, and the most hilarious outcome? You see that gloriously badass sword-packin’ Wild West steampunk Goro there on the cover?
This one. You see him. Don’t pretend you don’t see him, he’s right there.
Yeah, that guy? His actual character in the story is a fucking teenage weeb pretending to be a samurai cowboy. His every scene is lovingly dedicated to how badass he thinks he looks, how every wardrobe and weapon choice revolves around how cool he is, and his work ethic is lifted directly from seven hundred individual movies and animes made by white people about Japanese culture. It’s absolute fucking platinum and I adore it. I chortled every time.
What else can I say about Ghosts of Tomorrow? It’s rough and violent and action-packed, and downright harrowing in places. If piles of dead kids require a content warning for you – and no judgement if it does – then consider this a content warning.
It’s the future, a hundred or so years from now. The world is pretty darn fucked, and just to make things even better humans have discovered a way to scan brains into computers and use them as a more efficient means of performing high-speed processing tasks. I’m not entirely sure how it works, as the brain-meat itself seems to be discarded and the consciousnesses are somehow mapped onto a synthetic CPU so I’m not sure how that doesn’t lower the overall capacity and efficiency of the system, but it does. Brain make computer faster. That’s the premise. So in the words of Ryan George I’m gonna ask you to go ahead and get all the way off my back about it.
These electronic brains get put into chassis, different kinds of machines, for assorted reasons, or just continue to live in “the virtuality”, essentially cyberspace. Poor person forced into the military? When you die you can continue to serve and pay off your debts. Rich person who wants to live forever? That’s probably a thing, it happens here at least once. Kidnapped child? Oh, you’re going to have a bad time. I don’t know how long this technology has been around for as of the start of the book (which takes place over the course of little over one week), but I’m going to assume it was discovered and implemented a matter of hours before the first chapter, considering how fast and hard the narrative events turn shit-shaped and how inconceivable it is that things had been fine for any length of time prior to this, only to fall apart now.
I kid, but man. How did this technology ever remain stable long enough to become a thing?
Into this perfect disaster waiting to happen, our heroes and villains amble with understandable hesitancy.
Griff (apparently a rookie just out of school, but his story arc and probably just the fact that he is named Griffin led me to read him as quite a lot more grizzled than that) is trying to take down the organisations responsible for the creches of stolen kids who are being farmed and used as formatted-for-use computer components. Abdul is a poor military dude who died and was put in a combat chassis to serve out an afterlife sentence. Nadia is also there, working the kidnapped-kids case alongside Griff, and is actually pretty badass.
Meanwhile the crazy posthuman Lokner, Lokner 1.0 and Lokner 2.0 is / are intriguing and chilling as Stephen King-esque, classic corporate villain archetypes – like I said, this is something of a loving homage to Robocop and Lokner would absolutely not have been out of place at the helm of OCP. Along with Lokner comes a whole range of despicable predators and scavengers and opportunists, and their bloodthirsty victims-turned-weapons. Including the magnificent weeb assassin, Archaeidae.
In between the good and the bad is Miles, a hapless enabler in IT who I only found out had red dreadlocks at the very end of the book and for a really embarrassing length of time I actually thought was the same person as Griff and I don’t know why, because their names and plots were completely different but there you go. Look, full disclosure, I’m bad at this. If I’d registered the red dreadlocks, I definitely would have been able to distinguish them better from the get-go. Anyway Miles is in control of Lokner’s computer systems, essentially making him a God to the entire converted-to-data posthuman subspecies. He does just hysterically little with this fact.
Then there’s 88, an autistic kid who’s been scanned into the system and set to manage a mafia syndicate’s bank accounts, and who immediately infiltrates cyberspace and demolishes the planet. Which made me actually laugh out loud, it’s so great.
What does it all mean?
Nothing, really. Things are meaningless, non-sequential, utterly chaotic, and end in a spectacular explosive clusterfuck. And that’s okay.
Two of our characters have one (1) sex. There’s a bit too much of everything else going on for there to be much time for it, but they make the time and I can’t but admire them for that. Resource management at its finest. Still, I give Ghosts of Tomorrow a Robocop reboot movie out of a possible Bob Morton cocaine party with a side-order of that dude who gets covered in toxic waste and explodes into gooey paste when he gets run over.
They might come gorier than this, but you’d have to really be trying. Fletcher is something of a known butcher in indie grimdark, so it was without much surprise that I found this one suitably violent. Four-and-a-half flesh-gobbets out of a possible five. With a side-order of that dude who gets covered in toxic waste and explodes into gooey paste when he gets run over.
I remain confused as to how this world order even came to pass, and how it managed to last even as long as it did without the precise cataclysm that happened in this book happening. I’m also baffled, but also greatly entertained, by the fact that what I would have thought was the actual point of the story – the absolute and total demolition of the planet’s data and communications infrastructure and humanity’s plunge back into the early industrial age – was really just a by-the-way sideline going on while Archaeidae was changing clothes and checking himself out. This book gets an Archaeidae, out of a possible character that figure on the cover could have been, on the WTF-o-meter. No dude who gets covered in toxic waste and explodes into gooey paste when he gets run over on this one.
Very fun, and with some interesting and depressing things to say about human nature, consciousness and mortality tucked away cunningly amidst the decapitations and high-speed gunfights. At the risk of this review becoming dated let me just wish Fletcher and his hilarious fourteen-year-old cosplay-goals cyber-lad well in SPSFC2! Three stars on the Amazon / Goodreads scale for Ghosts of Tomorrow.