Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Review - Nu Logic: Rise of the Neos by Bill Gourgey

Short review: Dr. Janot wants to take over the world using the online game of Neology. The only ones who can stop him are a man lost in time, his leaderless followers, and a teenage girl.

Maddy's haunted dreams
Are the key to save the world
From Doctor Janot

Disclosure: I received this book as a review copy. Some people think this may bias a reviewer so I am making sure to put this information up front. I don't think it biases my reviews, but I'll let others be the judge of that.

Full review: Set in a cyperpunk world with espionage, nanotechnology, time travel, and hints of space travel, Nu Logic: Rise of the Neos is an eclectic and interesting science fiction novel. A sequel to the novel Glide (which I have not read, although there is enough background information provided in this volume to piece together the events of the previous one), the novel picks up some time after its predecessor left off and continues the story with the return of most of the same characters and and a rekindling of their conflicts.

The story takes place in a world recovering from a dystopian future in which the Academy, under the control of the Prophet, wrecked havoc on the world in the name of order, and was stopped, or at least diverted, by the efforts of the brilliant Doctor Magigate, a kind of supergenius inventor who seems to have developed most of the technology that undergirds the post Academy world. Complicating this simple narrative is the fact that Magigate seems to have been in love with the Prophet, and that the Prophet may not have been such an awful person to begin with. But all of this is in the distant past when Rise of the Neos takes place, although since Magigate seems to have discovered an odd way of traveling through time, the past is more or less being played out in the present as well.

The primary villain of the book is Doctor Janot, who also goes by the names Janeuf and Diogenes, an expert in creating viruses that can spread through both organic and inorganic systems, who has a convoluted plan to take over the world. He's already accomplished the first step, which is to get a large chunk of the world's population hooked on his online role-playing game "Neology", which seems like a fairly roundabout way to start. To be perfectly honest, this was one part of the book that seemed extraordinarily improbable to me, as I couldn't see why anyone would want to start playing Neology other than perhaps that tiny handful of people who enjoy Eve Online, except that Neology seems like it would be less fun to play. For the most part, descriptions of Neology seemed like Second Life with the addition of the fun of trying to avoid becoming infected with computer viruses and a player base that seem to have little to do other than kill new players to pass the time. Granted, some people enjoy that sort of thing, but it seems unlikely that a third or the world's population would. But taking the fictional reality presented at face value and going with it, we have to accept that this is the basis of Janot's plan.

Much of the rest of the book is filled with the convoluted intersecting story lines of the various players as they try to either advance Janot's plans, or like the knights and Dr. Longe, try to foil them. In the middle, more or less oblivious to the dangers, is the heroine of Glide, a girl named Maddy who is the only person alive who contracted (and has been cured of) the "Rust", a viral plague that jumped from human to network and back that had been manufactured by Janot during his first attempt to dominate the world. Interspersed in the story are interludes of events from the past, which, given the somewhat elusive time travel element may be events happening in the present as well, and which feature Magigate, Janot, and the Prophet. The book is sprinkled with classical references, mostly to Greek mythology and philosophy: Janot calls himself Diogenes and quotes both Greek cynic philosophy and Sun Tzu. Magigate names his inventions after Greek mythological figures such as Epimetheus and Ariadne. The resistance group that morphed into Magigate's followers dub themselves the Knights of Los Acres. Their implanted enhancements that give the knights their edge are all prefixed with "Magi-", both a reference to Magigate who created them, and magical powers, which the enhancements almost seem to bestow upon the knights. One knight even explicitly interprets her magi- enhanced healing powers as a manifestation of the spirits of the Santeria faith. And so on. These elements don't make the story fantasy or myth, but they do put a mythic patina on the cyberpunk reality.

The story rotates between several different story lines, jumping from person to person to tell the increasingly interwoven threads that all come together in the final portion of the book as everything comes to a head. The only problem I had with the style of story telling is that it means that the book leads off by throwing a cavalcade of characters at you, all involved in different, as yet seemingly unrelated scenes with minimal overarching context. Had I read the first book in the series before tackling this one, this may not have been so disorienting, as I would have already been somewhat familiar with the characters and the world they live in, but coming into the story cold as I did, it made the early chapters of the book tough sledding. But if a neophyte to the series perseveres through the first hundred or so pages, the book does begin to coalesce nicely, and before too long the confusingly fine brushstrokes of the initial pages resolve into a cohesive whole. Throughout the novel, Gourgey employs tension extraordinarily well, ratcheting up the suspense from beginning to end, so that when the final confrontation takes place, it is a cathartic explosion of pent up nerves.

I really only have two quibbles with Nu Logic, and they are relatively small. The first is that in the early chapters, there are several points in which a term or a piece of technology is explained via a footnote. In my case, these notes only served to break up and slow down what was already the slowest and most difficult portion of the book to get through. While the information contained in them was clearly presented by means of this device, they were little more than bland infodumps and did little save to jar me out of the fictional reality I was immersed in. In most cases, it would have been clear from the context in which the term was used what it meant or what it was, and in the others, I can only think there had to be a more artful means of delivering the information to the reader. The second quibble is that in the scenes set in the past, there were several points in which the book was conveying material that was supposedly drawn from Dr. Magigate's written journal, and in those sequences the font was switched to a small handwriting-like font that made those sections more difficult to read. Switching fonts during a book rarely improves it, and this book was no exception.

Those minor quibbles aside, Nu Logic: Rise of the Neos is a very good (and possibly the only) cyberpunk time-travel story featuring the valiant attempts of a small band of committed individuals to stave off a dystopian nightmare. Most of the characters are very well written, with motivations that make their actions for good or ill make sense. Even though the story is convoluted, with many twists and turns throughout, none of the intricacies of the plot are superfluous. If it is a mark of success for a book is that it makes you want to read more from the series, then for me this book is definitely a success.

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  1. Hi Aaron,

    Thanks for your thoughtful and thorough review of Nu Logic! If you get a chance to read book 1, Glide, please let me know if that helps with background and context. And thanks for participating in my book tour.

    Glide on!

    Bill Gourgey

    1. Thank you. I will be reading Glide in the near future.