This review is part of my judging effort for SPSFC2. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.
Hey there. Enough chit-chat! Let’s take a look at Reap3r, by Eliot Peper.
In an uncomfortably familiar and pandemic-y world of the present-to-very-near-future, a hitman targets a scientist. The hit is handled using a MobilePay-esque app for dark web killers for hire, called Reap3r. What an excellent premise, and I hope Peper put a patent on the idea before
Elon Musk someone else does.
Anyhow, from this intriguing start we jump forward three years, although this still set the story a bit closer in the immediate future than most of the sci-fi I’m used to. I’m still trying to decide if I like that or not. It didn’t feed my endless gluttony for bright shiny things (BSTs) or surreal alien magic (WTFs), but it did fill my burgeoning doom-belly with a good look at an all-too-plausible next step in the collapse of the golden age I have in my Nineties Teen head. Three years later, and the gathering-together of an interesting assortment of minds at the behest of a strange and seemingly benevolent patron.
It didn’t help that I had just watched Glass Onion so when he took them all on a cruise to the Galápagos Islands this was basically the picture in my head. Yes, even Devon the podcaster.
Right from the start, it was resoundingly obvious that this story wasn’t going to have the utopian happy ending a wealthy philanthropist who really believed the hype might have hoped for. We weren’t going to get to see herds of resurrected woolly mammoths gambolling majestically across the tundra, stamping down the permafrost and restoring the ecological balance (although frankly if I had seen that, I’m not sure how I would have reacted). This wasn’t going to turn out well for anyone. The book is named for an assassination app.
No, this was always heading for a (well crafted) shit-show and my only real hope as of about the halfway point was that Paul, the intel pervert using the Q supercomputer as a blackmail folder and porn stash, would be killing spree’d before the book was over.
To step from the story to questions of plot and mechanics for a bit, I guess I will say that while I enjoyed reading this and it all hung together, there was quite a long build-up and the characters spent a lot of time just sort of moving into place and manoeuvering around each other, doing what seemed like fairly random stuff. A reader can reasonably expect to not know exactly what is going on and what the over-arching plot of the story actually is for – well, for longer than the usual prologue or first act switcheroo, at least. If you’re not into that sort of uncertainty, you might feel like there’s no point. I’d encourage you to stick with it, though.
The first characters and plot arc to fall into place for me was, as mentioned, the thread of Luki and Paul and Q. I got them, at least insofar as I wanted Paul to be spree’d right in the face at Peper’s earliest convenience. For a while that was the only thread I was invested in, and I followed it like a water-cave-diver pulling on a safety line through the rest of the points of view. They were interesting vignettes, but I didn’t really get them until they got with the program and fed into the Luki / Q storyline. And like I say, that was quite late in the game.
I really felt for the characters, which I was not expecting in a tech drama of this gritty-present-day-reality subgenre. Even the villains (except for Paul; fuck – and I cannot express this in strong enough terms – Paul). The line between philanthropy and self-interest is generally the bottom line, and the endless ravenous demands of capitalism was … well, not to be trite, but in a sense that felt like the real antagonist here. And that tracks, frankly. If anything is going to prevent the building blocks we currently have in place from assembling into a utopian future and instead cram them into the shape of whatever fevered rich-cunt dream some sweaty rich cunt has, it’s that oldest and greatest of make-believe things humans made real: money.
In fact, you might even say that the real villain of this story was the money we made along the way. I wouldn’t say that, though. Ever. I’m better than that.
In my persistent and ongoing mental framing of Reap3r as a Knives Out mystery, by the way, I (the reader) am Benoit Blanc and no I will not apologise for that. And if you end up reading the rest of this review in a hokey Southern Gentleman voice, well I don’t think I will apologise for that either.
A couple of things didn’t quite sit right with me as the end of the story approached:
- Look, I love Terry Pratchett as much as the next guy, but the references and comparisons went a little bit too far – and occurred a little too repeatedly. While it did serve to tie this book to the near-present day (and let’s be real here for a second, if Pratchett’s legacy survived to be the only thing the giant-headed metallic-robe-wearing posthumans of the 89th Century remembered about the late 20th and early 21st, I would consider it an indisputable win), it folded into the “if this were a movie pitch it’d never get greenlit!” convention – which was also used maybe once or twice too often.
- Devon’s endgame, in leveraging her podcast into a paywalled publication, didn’t make intuitive sense to me. There wasn’t a deep dive into the near-future mechanics of monetisation and social media in the story, but it seemed to me that Rabbit Hole had just hit the viewer / subscriber / virality jackpot and that really would have been all she needed. But then, cashing in and selling out is definitely on-brand for an influencer, and even though Devon is meant to be a good one it shows how intrusive the capitalist system is. So, this is really kind of a plus but it still didn’t ring true for the character or the mechanics of her medium.
- I can’t say this enough, but Paul needed spree’ing. I get that he will probably become a recurring threat in other stories and that’s great and all, but the closure on his thread was very unsatisfactory.
Alright, let’s move on.
No sex. Some implied, but … nah, nothing really. A Reap3r out of a possible Tinder, Grindr and (why not, what the heck) Right Stuff orgy for – well, Reap3r.
Some violence, as required by the cutthroat business. All culminating in a glorious (if slightly suspension-of-disbelief-wrecking) assassin battle royale as [SPOILER REDACTED]. Good stuff, but still not enough to take us past two and a half flesh-gobbets out of a possible five.
Again, not much. It wasn’t that sort of story. Your rich and bountiful WTF fields tend to occur in the distant future, or when alien civilisations appear, or in the liminal spaces a bit more figurative than the tech industry and the mogul who named his yacht after the concept. Still, this was a great character study and said a lot of fascinating and depressing things about human nature and progress. All of it entirely too understandable. The WTF-o-meter is giving this a Michael Crichton novel out of a possible … huh, it’s the Tinder, Grindr and Right Stuff orgy again.
My Final Verdict
Is it just me, or was that climactic scene very Murder, She Wrote? But I loved it, very satisfying. The author’s note at the end of the book bore out my confusion over the plotting and the different storylines – Reap3r is a lot of different pieces woven together, and it took considerable effort to tie them into a structure. I think it was effort mostly well spent, as the result definitely works. Paul needed to be spree’d though. What even happened to Paul? He was just like … nah? Boo. Three stars.
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