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on Oct. 24, 2011 :
(Cross-posted from the Adarna SF book blog)
The Canary Review describes this book as “Cyber Opera” (cyberpunk + space opera) and I think it’s a fitting phrase. Cyberpunk generally has a focus on “high tech and low life”, but the virtual reality in Fate’s Mirror shares space opera’s delight in the fantastic. Cyber attacks take the form of naval combat in this VR world, resulting in some pretty amusing metaphors:
[Icy fear trickled down Morris’ ribs. No ship had sunk under him yet, but taking on water meant the possibility—no, the probability—of viral contamination.]
Readers looking for a serious discussion on tech, cybernetics, and AI won’t be satisfied with this book, but if you’re looking for a VR adventure with a unique anti-hero, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything else that compares.
It grabbed me quickly after the first chapter. The plot moves fast, and the problems and intrigue just keep piling on. The prose style is so seamless and consistent that you wouldn’t guess that it was a co-written work. M. H. Mead is a pen name for the team of Margaret Yang and Harry R. Campion, and I have to commend them both for their excellent writing.
Morris is a snarky anti-hero, but he is a memorable character because of his agoraphobia, an anxiety disorder that makes it difficult to do many things. It’s difficult for him to be in crowds, board a plane, eat food he didn’t prepare, and so on. This provides extra challenges for Morris, especially when the book begins with a rogue AI hacking his house’s utility systems–making said house explode in flames. All the racing and chasing forces Morris to grow out of his anxieties, resulting in a lot of character development. The agoraphobia makes things interesting, but it is never melodramatic and it doesn’t solely define him as a character. The other characters are also compelling even if there are only brief glimpses into their lives. I really liked Aidra; she’s Morris’ former boss, a private investigator, and a single mom. Their teamwork on the case advances their relationship past strictly-professional, and Morris’ affections for her makes him more human.
While the characters are great, the exceptions are the artificial intelligences. Their motives aren’t sufficiently explained. They could be fearsome antagonists while still having sympathetic motives, but they seem to be evil for no reason. This is especially noticeable as the AIs are digital reproductions of real people who don’t share their traits.
I have two other criticisms. The chapters jump across more POVs than necessary. Did the reader need to know about a security agent’s former career from his internal monologue? Not really. I also noticed that the female characters are magnets for tragedy to fuel Morris’ angst. It heightens the drama, but it distracted me from the story whenever I became conscious of the Disposable Woman trope being used again and again.
Fate’s Mirror is a fun cyberpunk read. If you like well-developed characters, a fast-paced plot, and fanciful VR worlds complete with pirate ships and naval battles, you’ll enjoy this book. I wished the antagonists had more depth and the Disposable Woman trope wasn’t used so often, but it’s still an entertaining romp and a unique addition to the genre.
Note: a free review copy was provided by the author.
(reviewed long after purchase)
on Sep. 05, 2011 :
Margaret Yang and Harry Campion collectively known as M. H. Mead has got to be one of the best things to come out of the cyberpunk genre in *years* not since Nueromancer have I so connected with a hacker protagonist. Most of them are a bit boring, seemingly omniscient and all powerful in AND out of cyberspace, Sueism at its finest. But not Morris, a fantastically flawed successor to Gibson's Case, Morris is a viker (Mead's term for a the elite hackers of her fictional `verse) who is also agoraphobic. Even going outside for a few moments is pure torture, but the main thrust of the novel in this reviewers opinion forces exactly this, many of the most poignant and page-turning moments of this work come when you find yourself wondering if Morris is going to be able to last just a little bit longer. Cope just a little bit more. Outlast the neurosis that's driving him to quite. It is, to say the least, gripping. Not to mention the treatment of AI's, cyberspace, and technology in general. This is a cyberpunk tale that is fairly novel (please pardon the pun) in its approach to these things, the world itself is pretty realistic, with the probable of tomorrow being the possible of today. If you're anything like me this in itself is a `win'; I like my fiction either annoyingly realistic or heroically UN-realistic. I found that the first time I read this book I missed many of the details I found in the second (and third!) readings. This is in this reviewer's humble opinion the sign of a wonderful and talented author. Keep your eyes to the horizon, I can foresee Mead's star rising, it may not be meteoric but it will be one that stays and lasts far into the future.
(reviewed within a week of purchase)
on Sep. 01, 2011 :
Morris is a hacker virtuoso whose panic attacks make it impossible for him to leave his home. That’s all fine and dandy as far as he’s concerned...right up 'til someone goes and blows up his house. Morris discovers that someone really is out to get him as he tries to figure out what happened, who’s behind it, and whether it has anything to do with his ex’s job in the government–and her sudden and brutal death.
Turns out, Fate’s Mirror is science fiction fun on a stick. It’s a Robert Ludlum meets Neuromancer in a future near enough to be recognizable, but far enough that the writing team that is M.H. Mead has its hands full creating a high tech world in all its three-d glory.
Once I got past the first few pages (slightly rough, ignore that), it was a fast-paced ride. The authors aren’t afraid to change setting and direction by taking out characters and keeping me guessing. Written in third person limited, we also gain glimpses into the minds of most of the actors, seeing the characters from a delightful range of perspectives.
The narrative itself is one part cyberpunk fun, one (small) part romance, and one part myths-meet-virtual-naval-battles. To that effect, the story uses the possibilities of virtual reality to open the doorway to more fantastical world-building (think Tad Williams and his Otherland series).
It's a lot of fun. Read it, I say.
“Morris Payne just might save the world. If only he can gather the courage to leave his house.”
(reviewed within a month of purchase)
Ian Thomas Healy
on July 29, 2011 :
FATE'S MIRROR by M.H. Mead is a fun read full of cyberpunky goodness. Morris is a hacker supreme (called a viker in this book), who is recruited by the NSA to hunt and destroy three powerful Electronic Consciousnesses. Should he fail, they will trigger a worldwide electromagnetic pulse to ensure the AIs' destruction. It sounds a little far-fetched, but then this IS cyberpunk. The battle scenes between Morris and the AIs are couched like eighteenth-century naval battles, with cannonades between ships and boarding parties. I thought there was a little too much wandering between narrative point-of-views, although I did enjoy the creative glimpses of the AIs' POV. Morris isn't the most likeable character in the world, but as I said before, this IS cyberpunk. The action is written well, the manuscript is free of errors, and it's a fast read.
(reviewed within a month of purchase)