356 pages. Plus preview for another novel.
Author's NoteWhat follows is a fictional story based on actual trends in neuroscience, psychology, and cognitive science. Though things have not yet become quite so disturbing, at least this much is clear: we are not what we think we are.
This book is set in a near-future United States where the climate is changing, Europe is freezing, terrorists have gone nuclear in Moscow, security measures are intrusive, a psychopath known as the Chiropractor is killing people on the East Coast, and politicians are preparing their nations in case the apocalypse is coming.
Thomas Bible is a psychology professor in the middle of a life crisis. His wife Nora has left him. His only joy in life is the time he gets to spend with his two children, Ripley and Frankie. He is also able to confide in Mia, the self-described "aging drag queen" who lives next door and babysits the children while Thomas is at work.
Thomas' world is thrown even further out of kilter when he is confronted by three FBI agents at his university office. They show him a disturbing video – at first, it seems to be some kind of porn, until the camera reveals the woman's skull has been opened! Someone is stimulating the woman by doing something to her brain...
The agents explain that someone is conducting neurological experiments and sending videos to the FBI. They suspect that Thomas' college roommate, Neil Cassidy, is behind the crimes.
Thomas remembers the long discussions he and Neil used to have about the Argument: Do souls exist? Is consciousness an illusion? Are we little more than our brains? In fact, Thomas later wrote a book on the subject.
And, in fact, Neil was at Thomas' house last night... should he tell the agents? Should he betray his former best friend?
Thus begins this interesting novel, an interesting mix of horror, crime and sci-fi. Is Neil the perpetrator? If so, what are these cases trying to prove? Why does Thomas seem to be the focus of the crimes? Can Thomas' unique knowledge and experience unlock the case? Or will the strain break him, emotionally and physically?
I found myself fascinated by the novel, and by the downward spiral of Thomas as his life is destroyed bit by bit. A major role is also played by agent Logan, a beautiful FBI agent who is driven to advance her career by solving this case. The children also play a large role in the story.
The science-fiction element of the story seems irrelevant at first, but in fact turns out to be key.
However, this is definitely not for the squeamish – if the idea of brain surgery bothers you, do not read this! This book is intended to be disturbing. There was also more "sex talk" than seemed relevant, whether in sexual situations, candid conversations, or children behaving badly.
I can give this novel a cautious recommendation: Yes, it will creep you out, maybe make you doubt the nature of reality, and it throws a few curves at you plot-wise, too.
The novel does not seem particularly gameable on the tabletop, but concepts from the novel could definitely apply to near-future "enhanced" warriors.
Reviewed by Editor in Chief Bill .