SShock Pao broke the barriers between worlds. Shock survived torture, violence and everything the world could throw at them to close the gap between Slip and here. Slip is the internet with the volume knob broken off. A digital sea where humanity uses avatars to navigate and where everything and everyone can be bought and sold.
Now those avatars, elements of the people who use them, are in the real world. And tangible. And dangerous. Already on the run, Shock, aided by the Hornets, a gang of hackers, fighters, artists and thieves, has no choice but to take the fight to the powers that be. Especially when they perpetrate an atrocity that alters the avatar/human relationship forever.
Ren Warom is one of those writers where you buy everything they put out. Their Fox Spirit novella, The Lonely Dark, is a masterpiece of psychological space horror and nascent AI rights. The prequel to Virology, Escapology, balances fiercely articulate and funny characters with a ruined world where the status quo is only ever as good as the last job you did. It’s Blade Runner with added serenity, Studio Ghibli with added knife fights. This is anything but the usual lazy exercise of style that Cyberpunk fare too often becomes. This is a story about real people, in a broken world, refusing to let themselves be broken by it.
It’s also a story about the war between art and business. The avatars are part of the one ecology we can’t destroy and Warom has a lot of fun making sure her characters have as little as possible. The avatars represent hope, the best parts of our selves made manifest and external. And locked away. For a world already on a knife edge, it’s as terrifying as it is heart-rending and the action here is all powered by the rage characters feel at what has been done. All of which plays out against a backdrop of floating cities, reconditioned human societies and a sense that this time cyberpunk’s war between style and content is both external and being won by the right side.
Virology is beautiful, brutal storytelling. You can read it without reading Escapology but you should read them both. And The Lonely Dark too. Ren is that good.
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