Synthetic Dreams

If there are no such things as demons, which is something that the main character states unequivocally in Kim Knox’ new cyberpunk science fiction romance thriller, Synthetic Dreams, then why are the hackers named after the Celtic demons of yore, the Fomorians?

But the real demon is Ouroboros. The worm of legend that eats his own tail. Confused? So was I–for a bit.

Synthetic Dreams paints a fascinating picture of a future world where the rich and powerful are able to harness the mental energy of certain individuals to power artificial reality dreamscapes.

The reader’s entry into this world is Vyn. Vyn is a Fomorian, a hacker using the codename Bran-seven. All the Fomorians use Celtic codenames. Hacking seems like half-tech and half-magic, so the Celtic analogies fit. While Vyn is in the Corporation-owned artificial reality world known as the Mind Tiers, she wears a glamour, yet another magic term. Glamour normally means enhancement, usually just enhanced appearance; better hair, better teeth, better body.

But Vyn’s glamour is illegal. All glamours are supposed to be tagged. If a person falls for someone else’s enhanced looks, at least they know what was enhanced. Vyn’s glamour isn’t just untagged, it’s a complete change of appearance and registry. She doesn’t just look better than her real self, she is able to fool the registry into believing that her real-life body matches the simulated person she appears to be.

Vyn has created the “Holy Grail” of hacking: she’s created a Simulacrum. It will make her rich–if she doesn’t get caught.

Vyn’s been pursuing a simulacrum for years, ever since the owners of the Corporation, the March-Goodmans, experimented on her, scarred her body, and had her transferred from the privileged N-sector to the slum S-sector.

Vyn wants to hide her scars. She also wants to find out why she was a victim of their experiments. And why her best friend Liam disappeared when he asked too many questions about her. But that was all a long time ago.

Now Vyn has a way to find the answers. With a simulacrum, she can be anybody, anywhere in the Mind Tiers. Or she can just sell it and get rich.

The Corporation is suddenly chasing her again. In the real world. And with intent to kill. And there’s a very hot security agent suddenly willing to protect her. The Corporation wants the Simulacrum. The security agent wants her to rescue his brother from the Corporation, and is willing to trade her promises of a future he can’t possibly mean in order to save his brother’s life.

Why can’t he possibly be sincere?  Because that security agent doesn’t need any glamour to look perfect. And Vyn knows that no one could possibly be interested in her scarred body except to use her as a tool.

Not even after she finds out what her scars were intended for. And after she discover that her security agent has been watching her, guarding her instead of following his assignment, for weeks.

And that the scars that ruined her life when she was a child–may be the only thing that can save her future now.

Escape Rating B-: This story had so many possibilities, but it’s too short to take advantage of them! It’s so frustrating. How did the world end up at this point? Why? This is like the current internet on steroids mixed with the Matrix, except everyone, well, almost everyone, is awake and aware, and a slight dash of the Roman Empire under the worst of the emperors. The corporate espionage bits are very, very insane.

Vyn is an extremely cool character, but we don’t see enough inside the security man’s head to figure out how he got into this. It’s his brother getting rescued, but he’s way more disaffected than that. This world has layers we’re not seeing.

About the Ouroboros thing…Vyn’s life turns out to be part of a very long plan by the Corporation, a plan that someone else manages to turn back against them. In the chilling sense of “revenge is a dish best served cold”. That part was icily well done.