Neuromancer meets Alex Rider
With people increassingly preferring to interact remotely with far-off friends on Twitter to having a conversation with an actual person, it surely won’t be long until we can plug our minds directly into the net.
The protagonists do just that in Brian Falkner’s second techno thriller, which takes place in an alternate but very recognisable America where Las Vegas was devastated by a rogue nuke several years before the destruction of the World Trade Center.
Falkner deftly grounds the novel’s futuristic technology in reality, basing precocious computer freak Sam Wilson’s impressive skills on real-life infiltration techniques. But while he insists that he didn’t set out to create a hacker’s manual, some of the early sequences are bogged down by too much expositional detail. But that doesn’t get in the way of the enthralling plot, which begins on the mean streets of New York before moving to Silicon Valley’s sunnier climes.
After breaking into the White House’s seemingly impregnable network, Sam is inducted into the ranks of a covert government cybercrime agency and put on the trail of a band of mysterious online terrorists. He soon realises that the revolutionary Neuro-headsets that allow users to interface with computers without using a keyboard or mouse have very sinister side effects. Before long, a full-scale civil war breaks out between Neuros and Non-Neuros, climaxing with a spectacular siege at Mt Cheyenne.
Unfortunately Falkner is not so proficient at characterisation. Sam and his teenage cohorts, including bald English maverick Dodge and the tough-as-nails Vienna, sometimes resemble stereotypical ciphers. Still, some good laughs are raised from Sam’s antipodean sidekick Kiwi’s broad “New Zillund” accent. There’s life in the old cyberpunk yet.