K.L. Neidecker of The Blaagh reviews Fletcher’s 88

K.L. Neidecker over at The Blaagh gives a stunning review of Michael R. Fletcher’s 88. 

Time for some SF goodness.

My day-job has me doing a lot of two things: Dri­ving, and run­ning away from dogs loosed on me after cut­ting some­ones cable off.
Good car­dio, that sec­ond bit.
While dri­ving, I love to lis­ten to pod­casts via my Android phone. I have no choice, as my area has only three types of radio sta­tions: Clas­sic rock (not bad, but just how many times can you hear the same ten songs), Coun­try, or Coun­try. Yes, County is listed twice for a reason.
I con­sume more pod­casts in a week than most peo­ple do in a month. I hope they aren’t fattening.
Any­way, while enjoy­ing an episode of the excel­lent “Get Pub­lished” pod­cast, which can be found at Irrev­er­ent Muse, I heard an inter­view with one Michael R Fletcher.
This inter­view revolved around his upcom­ing, debut novel “88″.
One thing he said really caught my atten­tion; Some blogs and book review sites were turn­ing their noses up at nov­els pub­lished by the smaller houses.
I hadn’t thought of that.
You think, “Hey, when this gets pub­lished, it’s pub­lished, right?”
Then you just have to get your mas­ter­piece into the hun­gry hands of review­ers and blog­gers, right?
Well, it seems some folks, obvi­ously behind the times, still view a novel to only be worth a damn if pub­lished by one of the big houses.
That’s pretty damn snobbish.
I have been called a lot of things in my life, but a snob is not one of them.
And so I hit the Irrev­er­ent Muse site, clicked over to Michael R Fletcher’s page, and con­tacted him for a review copy of his novel.
Read on, dear reader, and let me tell you a (spoiler free) tale of a book called “88″.

Vir­tual worlds, crime car­tels, robot fights and a hint-o-dystopia? Where do I sign up?

First and fore­most, here is the blurb, hot from the Ama­zon entry for “88″.
The dream of Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence is dead and the human mind is now the ulti­mate pro­cess­ing machine. Demand is high, but few are will­ing to sac­ri­fice their lives to become com­put­ers. Black-market crèches, strug­gling to meet the ever-increasing demand, deal in the har­vested brains of stolen chil­dren. But there is a dig­i­tal snake in that frac­tally mod­elled gar­den; some brains make bet­ter com­put­ers than oth­ers. 88, a bril­liant autis­tic girl, has been genet­i­cally engi­neered and raised from birth to serve one pur­pose: become a human com­puter. Plagued by mem­o­ries of a mother she never knew and a desire for free­dom she barely under­stands, she sets her­self against those who would be her mas­ters. Unfor­tu­nately for 88, the Cuntrera-Caruana Mafia clan have other plans for her. Grif­fin Dick­in­son, a Spe­cial Inves­ti­ga­tor for the North Amer­i­can Trade Union, has been tasked with shut­ting down the black mar­ket crèches. Joined by Nadia, a state-sanctioned reporter and Abdul, the depressed ghost of a dead Marine inhab­it­ing a com­bat chas­sis, Grif­fin is drawn deep into the shady under­belly of the brain trade. Every lead brings him one step closer to an age-old truth: cor­rup­tion runs deep. An army of dead chil­dren, brain­washed for loy­alty and housed in state of the art mil­i­tary chas­sis, stand between Grif­fin and the answers he seeks. But one in par­tic­u­lar, Archaei­dae, a 14-year old Mafia assas­sin obsessed with Miyamoto Musashi, Sun Tzu, and Machi­avelli, is truly wor­thy of fear. Archaei­dae is the period at the end of a death sentence.
Should I just end this post here? I mean, just read that descrip­tion. My blood-sugar spikes just eye­ing all those sweet bits of SFgoodness.
Well, let’s see if the novel is as good as the blurb.
If there is one word that could describe this book, it’s “tight”.
The prose is sharp, descrip­tive where needed, terse and accu­rate dur­ing action (of which there is plenty), full of life dur­ing dialog.
No doubt due to both the tal­ent of Michael R Fletcher and the hard work put in by folks at Five Rivers Chap­manry, the pub­lisher of “88″, this novel comes off as a fully pro­fes­sional piece of writ­ing through and through. No half-assed writ­ing here, no indi­ca­tion this is a debut novel any­where in sight.
88, ignor­ing the relent­less empti­ness in her belly, stud­ied the cracks in the walls and floor. The cracks were a sys­tem, a coded mes­sage from the uni­verse, preg­nant with infor­ma­tion and sly with sub­tle hints. She leaned for­ward, face close to the floor as she stared at the micro­scopic clefts and crevices in the dirty stone. They spoke to her, reveal­ing all they could of the real­ity beyond.
Not once did I feel this was any­thing less than a full-fledged novel writ­ten by an author who knows his stuff and cared for by a pub­lisher that gives a damn.
Now let’s talk concepts.
There is a whole lot going on in “88″. More than once, I found myself in awe of the con­cepts intro­duced in this novel.
As cyber­punk did in the dawn of home com­put­ing, this novel takes tech­nol­ogy  found around us today and pos­tu­lates what may be in the near future. The world is net­worked, coun­tries are basi­cally out­moded ideas replaced by trade unions sim­i­lar to what the EU is now. Con­flicts tend to be inter­nal rebel­lions due to food short­ages, rather than wars between countries.
A.I. is a waste of time due to tech­nol­ogy that allows the entire per­son­al­i­ties and thought processes of indi­vid­u­als to be ‘scanned’ and used as a com­puter. Want to live for­ever? Just sign up with your gov­ern­ment and let them scan you. The cost? Oh, you just have to work for them for a while. A few decades or so. No biggy. Oh, and scans don’t have the same rights as humans. Oh, and you have to work off the cost of the pro­ce­dure and the gear you are rid­ing around in.
What stresses would fall upon once liv­ing peo­ple as they found them­selves more  like a CPU than a human? What would com­bat be like if human brains directly con­trolled machines of war? How would the world change if you could live for­ever, and maybe regret your choice to do so?
Abdul, though he was aware of the pres­sure of her fin­gers and able to mea­sure the tem­per­a­ture of her skin, couldn’t actu­ally feel the touch. Just moments ago he was dream­ing of human con­tact and here it was, another moment stolen. Abdul added it to the list of hurts.
Con­cepts are worth lit­tle with­out plot to glue them together, so let’s talk story now.
The plot is thick and interesting. I found myself impressed with the deft han­dling of all the plot-lines in “88″.
We fol­low the small autis­tic girl, known only by the num­ber 88, as she is used by unscrupu­lous indi­vid­u­als in the ille­gal trade of scanned minds. With­out spoil­ing any­thing, let me just say these indi­vid­u­als may have got­ten a lit­tle more than they bar­gained for with this potent mind.
We ride along with Grif­fin Dick­in­son, an agent tasked with shut­ting down these ille­gal mind-thefts, as he is joined by a jour­nal­ist and an (awesome) war machine piloted by a scanned Marine. This is a com­plex set of events with very lik­able char­ac­ters, and raises some real ques­tions about the ethics of this scan­ning technology.
We watch as a pow­er­ful indi­vid­ual has him­self scanned and moves for­ward with an insane plan to rein­vent the human race. This is another inter­est­ing thread in the plot, and what this indi­vid­ual does effects all the other char­ac­ters in inter­est­ing ways.
We run behind Archaei­dae, a pow­er­ful assas­sin war-machine piloted by a child’s scanned mind, as he tries to please his mas­ters, slash­ing his way through foes.
Yet, with all of this going one, with mul­ti­ple char­ac­ters doing diverse actions, some­times half a world away from each other, I found the story to be emi­nently understandable.
There were times when, due to time con­straints, I was unable to read any of the novel for a week. But when I picked up my Kin­dle again, I was able to slide back into the story in only a moment.
That, dear reader, is the sign of a well told tale.
“88″ came out of nowhere for me. I took a chance and con­tacted an author about a debut novel that sounded inter­est­ing. And I am glad I did.
Michael R Fletcher weaves a bril­liant tapes­try in “88″, one with over­lap­ping threads of dystopia, high-tech con­cepts, human rights, and action.
The plot is punchy, and action full of motion and detail, and the char­ac­ters are unique and well fleshed out. Get it, read it, love it!

Sounds great! Where can I find this book?

More info about the author can be found on his site.

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