Cyberdrome (Joseph and David Rhea)
Reality can be hard to define. It can be what we believe or experience, more than what actually exists. That seems to be the message of Cyberdrome, although it is not a message clearly delivered.
Another entry in my small collection of independent authors discovered on the Kindle online discussion forums, the novel is a techno-thriller set in a near future dominated by the technology we may recognize from our lives today, but that has progressed to the point of nearly dominating the human race. Virtual reality has become a matter of course for most people, and major corporations and governments entrust their operations and secrets to vast computer arrays that function more like organisms than machines. The paraplegic computer specialist Alek Grey is the chief protagonist in what appears to be a case of cyber terrorism inflicted on the company of his father. The company—Cyberdrome—is revealed by the media as a possible cause of and, paradoxically, savior from a nanobot plague outbreak that has caused thousands of deaths and the quarantine of the entire state of Utah. The action very quickly moves into the virtual realm as Alek and a team of security officers (including his former fiancée) are inserted into the company eponymous mainframe, a DNA-based liquid memory computer with nearly unlimited capacity, but somewhat unstable operation.
Inside, virtual-Alek (with fully functional legs, to his amazement) is almost immediately imperiled by a variety of hostile programs, which the Rheas present as giant robotic animals. He crosses paths with a sentinel program named Javid Rho, one member of the cloud of security programs (think of them as really, really, awesome versions of Norton Antivirus) sent to contain the cyber-attack. As they try to track down the cause and culprit behind the attack, they become involved with several other sentient programs that have escaped from the “simulations” that the company was using Cyberdrome to run…complex “planet” models, allowed to develop and evolve entire ecosystems in semi-controlled experiments. These simulations are nominally used to help the company develop a means of destroying the nanobot plague that threatens humanity, but as is usually the way of it in these stories, not everything is as it seems.
In many ways, Cyberdrome is a fairly standard entry into the sort of high-tech thriller genre that captivates fans (like me) of popular authors such as Michael Crichton and the writing tandem of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. The small set of tightly defined—if fairly stereotypical—characters in a dangerous, foreign environment, and battling a fast-moving and technological problem, simply screams Crichton in particular. The problem I had with the book is that although the Rheas have managed to build a near-limitless world inside Cyberdrome by means of the simulation planets, the story just barely touches any of it in a meaningful way. So too is the “real” world (you know…meatspace) given short shrift here. I would have loved to know just a little bit more about the nanobot plague and the world into which it intrudes, but here it’s treated more as vague background setting than an actual problem to be solved. How was the plague contained? Why were the nanobots developed in the first place?
If the story is going to continue into any future works, then exploring these dark corners of Cyberdrome and the future world it inhabits is going to be of utmost importance. If not, I don’t think there is much interesting story left to tell.
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