Cyberpunk City Book One: The Machine Killer is the first in a five-part series to be completed this year by D. L. Young. Blackburn Maddox has been datajacking since age fifteen and is now 30 or so, spending his recent time doing it for a legitimate company so they can fill gaps in their knowledge, to put it innocuously. The lifestyle has been hard on him , and he never fit in with his coworkers. A dataset soon draws him into a world rife with betrayal, with artificial intelligence pulling his strings from behind the scenes; a world where you can get attacked by an algorithm in cyberspace and have your real-world body paralyzed, and where your long-term memory can be temporarily deactivated.
The story is also occasionally told through a corporate bodyguard’s perspective, Beatrice.
Maddox opposes those with brain upgrades, even those closest to him, pushing them away due to the way they change the person’s personality. He’s obsessed with organizing his gear. One of the unusual sections is when he has a dream of constructing a leaf-cutter ant home, a dream that ends up having unusual origins:
But it wasn’t just any ant mound. It was the greatest ant colony structure ever created, with crisscrossing passageways and dozens of chambers for fungal gardens, egg storage, waste disposal…Perfectly devised, flawlessly constructed.
In the book, humans indeed live in hiverises, like other eusocial creatures do in nature. These buildings house millions of residents, each colony with its own distinctive culture. We later learn this is how A.I.s see humans, as mere ants. Inequality runs rampant within these hives,
A square foot of the real estate here was worth more than his entire condo.
Despite his love of order, he creates chaos in his relationships as shown in the following scene through a great use of symbolism,
When he’d lived here with (Lora), the small apartment had been a shrine to knickknacks of every size and shape...Now it looked like a different place entirely, like some stranger had moved in and replaced the chaos with order, the kaleidoscope of colors with muted grays and pale whites. Where there had once been a clashing, eclectic mess of furniture, now there was a tidy, harmonious arrangement of sofa and love seat and dining set.
Of course, he blames the chaos on her for being a mess of contradictions. One gets the idea that he never listened to her by his quick-fix response to the next lines,
“You remember how I was. Way up one week, way down the next…” (she said)
“They make pills for it.”
“I tried pills, remember? Lots of them.”
“Could have tried others. Different combinations.”
Maddox was okay with Lora taking pills to change her personality, but not installing a brainjack that would change her personality, which seems hypocritical. Far from making him a less believable character, I believe such contradiction makes characters more believable. Humans exist in a constant state of cognitive dissonance (inner conflict) and it’s how we resolve it that determines our character. One could say that being brainjacked encompasses more than a personality change, however. With pharmaceuticals, the psychological change is still viewed as being generated from within the person, while brainjacking opens oneself up to influence from the outside by an A.I., an increasing problem in the book as they generate conflict to their own ends.
“Why would anyone want to join with such a thing?…Why would anyone want to give up what makes us special? To surrender our human sovereignty to machines?”
So, in a way it does make sense that Maddox would draw the line there, as illustrated in the following scene where he projects his responsibility for ending his relationship with Lora onto the A.I. (which he does twice in the chapter, irrationally),
“You think I’m going to have a conversation with the illegal rogue artificial intelligence that’s hijacked your brain? How about I don’t want to talk to the machine that split us up…”
“She didn’t split us up. No one forced you to walk out—”
These things make the character real, the fact that one can psychoanalyze him. Most authors don’t take these risks to show the basic ego defense mechanisms (denial, projection, sublimation, displacement, etc.) partially because real human behavior looks psychotic when it’s written down, but from a psychoanalytical perspective, the average person generates a continual state of internal psychotic narratives that are designed to avoid the truths of their existence.
Imagery and Metaphor:
The imagery and metaphors aren't heavy, but they're effective when employed, particularly when they go together to describe the city,
Hiverises looked different at night and from a distance. They were silent and majestic like mountain ranges bejeweled with amber points of light. Hovers moved in thin coordinated knots along invisible transit lanes, floating like clusters of stars among the City’s massive superstructures ...clusters grown together like some enormous coral reef.
...Two dozen similar building-like partitions, all clustered together like the downtown of some massive city, connected by an intricate latticework of pulsating data streams. Scores of dull, yellowed window glass. Aging gray concrete streaked with a century’s worth of grime and bird shit. Rainbow explosions of graffiti reaching twenty stories and sometimes higher...(Hover taxis) ferried the wealthy from building to building like bees floating among enormous hives...
A ghostlike structure towered before him, the residential building’s datasphere, a digital skeleton nearly identical to its real-world granite-and-steel counterpart.
Cyberpunk City Book One: The Machine Killer is a throwback to early cyberpunk in that much of it takes place in cyberspace, something that's missing in a lot of new cyberpunk books. It’s action packed and is consistently well written and edited throughout. Anyone who enjoys the genre will find a good, solid read here. Pick it up on Amazon!