Bluescreen is one of those novels that I picked up based on the cover. The title, Bluescreen, immediately tells you there is going to some kind of computer crash, in this case, it is a brain implant. You crash to get high. Drugs, a cyberpunk staple. The cover’s imagery tells us so much. This is how you design a good cover. The metropolitan city enshrouded by a layer of flying crafts, in this case, drones that have been assigned assorted tasks. Then there is the woman, front, and center. She is obviously not Caucasian, immediately informing us that this book will examine multicultural ideas. She is Hispanic, and this plays well into her low-life existence in this cyberpunk world. She is also adorned with a prosthetic limb, which shows off as much style as it does substance. In the story, this too does not go ignored. Her cyberlimb matters. Even the clothes that she wears seeps with a cyberpunk style.
The official synopsis is:
Los Angeles in 2050 is a city of open doors, as long as you have the right connections. That connection is a djinni—a smart device implanted right in a person’s head. In a world where virtually everyone is online twenty-four hours a day, this connection is like oxygen—and a world like that presents plenty of opportunities for someone who knows how to manipulate it.
Marisa Carneseca is one of those people. She might spend her days in Mirador, but she lives on the net—going to school or doing things of more questionable legality with her friends Sahara and Anja.
It’s Anja who first gets her hands on Bluescreen—a virtual drug that plugs right into a person’s djinni and delivers a massive, non-chemical high. But in this city, when something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Mari and her friends soon find themselves in the middle of a conspiracy that is much bigger than they ever suspected.
Dan Wells, author of the New York Times bestselling Partials Sequence, returns with a stunning new vision of the near future—a breathless cyber-thriller where privacy is the world’s most rare resource and nothing, not even the thoughts in our heads, is safe.
Dan Wells is the author of Bluescreen. He is best known for his novel, I am not a Serial Killer, which has a movie coming out in the near future. He is also well known for his involvement in the popular writer’s podcast, Writing Excuses, where he has stated that when he reads science fiction, cyberpunk is the fiction he goes to. This familiarity with the genre doesn’t go unnoticed in Bluescreen. He nails many of the tropes of the genre, while simultaneously updating them for a modern audience.
The primary plot device in the story is the djinni, a brain-computer interface device that connects the user to the net at all times. This provides practical augmented reality and a portal from which to enter the VR space. Marisa, the protagonist, is the member of the Cherry Dogs, a video game guild that plays a popular game at a professional level. When they aren’t playing, the Cherry Dogs act as a hacker collective.
Their stunning hacking abilities are all the more powerful in a world where there are drones and self-driving cars zip around the city at all hours. This gives them a physical power over their environment that is reminiscent of “rigging” from Shadowrun. Rigging is when a hacker plugs his brain into a vehicle or drone and essentially becomes the user’s body. Self-driving cars are the center of the best scene in the novel, where the characters are forced to run out in o the freeway where self-driving cars are hurtling by at breathtaking speeds, but because of the algorithms that rule these cars, they automatically veer around them. This makes for a compelling scene with high tension and showcasing the level in which technology in this world has been integrated into everything.
Overall, the story is compelling. It is a compelling techno-thriller with great cyberpunk feel that often gets the tech right. When the characters are hacking and engaging the hacker community, it feels believable. The speed at which they hack things is often unrealistic, but in fiction, I can suspend this disbelief for the sake of the story. Another aspect of Bluescreen that I found refreshing was that most of the characters are not Caucasian and are not stereotypical cutouts of the ethnic group they represent. Instead, they come across as real people who are often at the mercy of their circumstances. Sometimes this is associated with their race, but it is obvious that the world’s melting pot is getting more and more mixed in this future.
Bluescreen, the drug, is a fascinating exploration of how digital drugs may come about. The drug dumps junk data into the user’s brain-computer until it is overwhelmed and crashes. This experience is a high with non-chemical origins, but results in minutes of unconsciousness as the user “reboots.” The more insidious aspect of this drug is that while djinni is out of commission, it installs a program in the brain that allows the drug dealers to control the users remotely while they are out. One of the disappointments in this novel was that this abuse of the users wasn’t taken anywhere near its logical conclusion. It steers well clear of the dark, dark uses of this tech. That is symptomatic of the fact that this is a Young Adult novel, something I didn’t realize when I started reading it.
Most of the issues that I had with this novel came from the fact that I am not the target audience. I love cyberpunk, which is why I picked it up, but I am not a teenager. The writing itself felt too simple; I like more complexity in word choice. I felt that it was too easy to read. Most of the story’s subplots involved some kind of teenage angst, which I can appreciate, but it got tiresome after awhile. The two love interests in the story, Saif and Omar, were very hard for me to tell apart. At first, I didn’t realize they were different characters. They are both dealing Bluescreen. They are both exotic playboys, who are older than the girls. They both have the same kind of awkward magnetism for Marisa. Even their character arcs are remarkably similar.
What I can say about this book, is that I can see its value. It wasn’t written for me; it was written for teenagers. And any novel that has the balls to show teenagers that sometimes disobeying authority is the right thing is good in my book. This is also how I felt about the Hunger Games books. The world and characters were compelling, however, and when the sequel, Ones and Zeroes, that Wells is currently developing comes out I will read it.
Here is the synopsis for Ones and Zeroes that will be coming out in February 2017:
Overworld. It’s more than just the world’s most popular e-sport—for thousands of VR teams around the globe, Overworld is life. It means fame and fortune, or maybe it’s a ticket out of obscurity or poverty. If you have a connection to the internet and four friends you trust with your life, anything is possible.
Marisa Carneseca is on the hunt for a mysterious hacker named Grendel when she receives word that her amateur Overworld team has been invited to Forward Motion, one of the most exclusive tournaments of the year. For Marisa, this could mean everything—a chance to finally go pro and to help her family, stuck in an LA neighborhood on the wrong side of the growing divide between the rich and the poor. But Forward Motion turns out to be more than it seems—rife with corruption, infighting, and danger—and Marisa runs headlong into Alain Bensoussan, a beautiful, dangerous underground freedom fighter who reveals to her the darker side of the forces behind the tournament. It soon becomes clear that, in this game, winning might be the only way to get out alive.
Bluescreen – 6/10