Characters tend to banter rather than talk in screenwriter Conviser's workmanlike SF debut, set in an indeterminate and pacified future in which whoever controls Echelon, an electronic surveillance system, controls the world. After Echelon agent Ryan Laing dies and is brought back via nanotech "drones," he possesses an extra connection into Echelon's data flow. This ability comes in handy when Ryan and fellow agent Sarah Peters discover a coup in progress against Christopher Turing, Ryan's mentor and Echelon's director. Alternately on the run from and penetrating into Echelon's past and present, the pair persuade other agents to join them in a hunt for a legendary hacker hideout, Elysium. The highly visual descriptions of the cyberpunk setting make the usual suspects (nanotech that confers superpowers, secretive "suits" vs. "street" hackers, virtual/physical reality crossover) a bit more cinematic, albeit at the expense of believability. The mystery of Echelon's origin dangles at the end, pointing to the promised sequel. (July) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
KLIATT - Ginger Armstrong
With a main character that could be described as a cybernetic James Bond, this science fiction adventure begins with a dangerous rock climb that results in agent Ryan Laing's death. An operative for Echelon, Laing is later resurrected with implanted drones that the National Security Agency's special department has engineered. Although the constant buzzing of the drones irritates Laing, the drones repair him when he is injured and through them, Laing is able to communicate with his controller, Sarah Peters. After a treacherous new assignment in which Ryan fails to follow orders, Laing lands in the office of Jason Sachs, the Inspector General of Echelon, who recruits Laing for a secret mission. Echelon's security has been breached and Sachs believes that a conspiracy is afoot to destroy "the most pervasive global eavesdropping network in history." Along with Sarah, Ryan sets out to find the evildoers who are plotting against Echelon and to stop them before worldwide disaster ensues. With his sarcastic wit and cool exterior, Ryan Laing is the perfect government agent. Traveling around the world and in constant danger from those in power, Ryan Laing could become the next SF action hero. Fast paced and thrilling, this novel is sure to captivate SF readers who like plenty of action and a large dose of advanced technology.
After World War II, the National Security Agency's massive spy system, Echelon, continues to amass and analyze every piece of electronic information until it quickly progresses from global surveillance to global threat. Agent Ryan Laing gets the call to investigate and plunges into a nightmare of paranoia and high-tech intrigue. Screenplay and television treatment writer Conviser's debut novel, the first of a two-volume project, resonates with immediacy even as it questions the steps scientists have taken to bring the world to such a precarious place. Fans of sf intrigue and speculative fiction should enjoy this addition to the post-cyberpunk oeuvre. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-Echelon, a supersecret global spy system, has been in control of the world's data portals since shortly after World War II. It has wiped out dissension virtually everywhere, and the peoples of all countries are peaceful and content. Christopher Turing, head of Echelon, suspects a conspiracy and calls in operative Ryan Laing to save the world from villainy. With the help of internal nano-bot drones and a "handler" whose input is inserted directly into his mind, Laing overcomes evil threats-eventually. At times this story is overwhelmed by over-the-top screenplay action scenes and character shorthand. However, fans of Ian Fleming's James Bond novels may find that this tale delivers less action but more ideas. Teens familiar with the novelizations of Star Wars, The Matrix, or Lara Croft, Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life will need to slow down if they want to get a full measure of insight from the political and ethical issues proposed by Conviser.-Dana Cobern-Kullman, Luther Burbank Middle School, Burbank, CA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Near-future struggle for control of the world-a honeypot for the hi-tech conspiracy-theory crowd. Developed after WWII by the NSA, the vast, ubiquitous surveillance system known as Echelon now controls the world by preventing wars, diverting scientific development and channeling the spread of technology. Once-dead agent Ryan Laing, resurrected by means of "drones" (nanomachines) injected into his body, now shares a secret means of communication with his controller, Sarah Peters. After an attempt to assassinate Sarah narrowly fails-thwarted by Christopher Turing, Echelon's chief-Ryan uncovers evidence of a huge plot against the Echelon organization, apparently fronted by-Turing himself! Security chief Jason Sachs, meanwhile, tries to enlist Ryan and grabs Turing-who retaliates by initiating a lockout of Echelon's core codes, preventing Echelon's surveillance and control systems from functioning. As Sachs tries to torture the codes out of Turing, and the uncontrolled world slips back into chaos and violence, Ryan, trusting Sachs not at all, joins with Sarah to find out who's really doing what to whom, and learn where Echelon's highly advanced, too-perfect-seeming control codes originated. Packing a punch-though marred by avague backdrop, disorganized structure, explanations that break up action sequences, strained prose-Conviser's debut makes deft use of technological issues and developments. A sequel is promised.
From the Publisher
“Imaginative and intuitive . . . Conviser mines and mints a nonstop stream of visual images.”
–Chris Carter, creator of The X-Files
“A terrifying glimpse into the future. Jam-packed with intrigue, terror, and suspense. Conviser is a writer to watch.”
–Allan Folsom, author of The Day After Tomorrow
Read an Excerpt
In the moments after impact, cold fury consumed Ryan Laing. Adrenaline blasted through him. Rage fired hot. Electric pain racked limbs, joints, and bone. His blood flowed, staining the desert earth. Muscles locked in spasm, drawn taut.
Then the shock wave receded. Sensation slipped from his hands and feet. One by one, each point of input faded to static. He felt desiccated, a husk left to California’s Santa Ana winds. Only the jagged rocks digging into Ryan’s back cracked his isolation.
As death neared, breath came harder—gulps of air drawn through frothed lips. Desert sun lanced him. The granite spire vaulting over his head offered little protection. Seconds earlier he’d clung to that rock, climbing smooth and well. It had taken half an hour to climb the spire. He’d caught the express train down.
Darkness crept in even as memories circled, vague and illusory—the parting explosions of a billion synapses. The flickering images refused to coalesce into a life Ryan could recognize; he felt as if he were watching someone else’s childhood vids.
Only the past weeks stood clear. What he’d seen. What he’d done. That memory refused to follow Ryan’s pain into oblivion. It bore into him still—as it had during mission debrief. Despite the interrogators’ relentless questioning, he’d talked around memories of the old man dying at his feet—and by his hand.
Work defined Ryan Laing, Echelon agent. If Echelon was the puppet master controlling humanity, Ryan was a string linking the manipulator to the puppet. Work outlined the shape and texture of his life. But there were days when it cored him, the brutality of the means he utilized not quite justifying the ends. On those days, self-respect came hard.
During the debriefing, the interrogators had caught onto that weakness and exploited it, blasting him with questions. Ryan had done the right thing; he’d done his job. But guilt ate at him as the debriefing dragged on. The old man’s eyes haunted him.
Finally, Ryan cut out. The interrogators had his feed; they could see what he’d seen and didn’t need a narrator. He removed his goggles and flow-space blinked out, leaving him alone in the prefab perfection of his Los Angeles apartment. He leaned back in his chair, letting his senses adjust to reality. Hours in the flow affected perception. Ryan tried to shake the old man’s death from his mind. It wouldn’t budge.
Rarely did Ryan take notice of the cramped space he called home. Most of his domestic life was spent in the flow, or asleep. His flow deck bulged from an alcove next to his bed. As he rose, it recessed into the wall. He slipped past the molded plastic dining nook, which he’d never used, and out onto the terrace. LA’s high-rises ghosted up through the smog-strangled air. He took a deep breath, coughed it out, and knew he had to leave.
Rock climbing was part of the cycle. Some people shot chems, some fucked toward a state of grace—Ryan climbed. To set the ledger straight, to rebalance, to avoid a system crash—he climbed. No rope, just hands on rock.
The promise of release pulled him from the balcony, and he was out the door in seconds. Ryan hopped the maglev to Palm Springs, which was difficult to differentiate from Riverside, from Los Angeles itself. For a thousand kilometers in any direction ’scrapers cut up the sky, negating topography. The monoliths blurred as Ryan slid east on the maglev’s smooth track. He lost himself in their unbroken consistency.
Ryan imagined the ’scrapers’ residents scurrying through a daily grind as constant as the scenery itself. They lived easy, worked their jobs, slurped through bioengineered meals and returned each night to cookie-cutter apartments. Energy contained, harnessed and regulated. As an Echelon agent, Ryan had a lot to do with that consistency. In spite of his own culpability, Ryan shuddered.
In Palm Springs, Ryan caught a scenic shuttle into the desert. Joshua Tree had been maintained as a nature preserve, a pockmark in the urban monotony. Corpulent, tech-junked families filled the shuttle, gaping at the moonscape through rad-filtering plexi. Compressed by sprawl and the relentless drive to build, Joshua Tree remained a living museum of something reckless and carnal long abandoned. The shuttle glided through the park, a canned voice defining each piece of the landscape.
Ryan rose and forced the door, setting off the alarm. Hot air flooded the compartment as the shuttle slid to a halt. Ryan jumped out and scrambled away from the tracks. The shuttle’s emergency system warned him to return to his compartment. Scorched earth crunched underfoot as Ryan jogged through crooked Joshua trees. Their rough bark and spindling limbs offered up a dry organic scent that cut through the smog. The shuttle finally gave up on Ryan and moved off, claxon shrieking.
Ryan kept his eyes trained on the valley before him. He could forget the encroaching ’scrapers if he looked in exactly the right direction and kept his eyes down. Massive boulders pocked the landscape, detritus belched from the Earth’s core.
From the glinting desert, sheer cliffs vaulted into the sky, slabs of granite forced up by eons of pressure. Laing clambered up the narrow valley, a fissure slicing between two cliff faces.
He reached the base of the climb, letting his breath slow as he gazed up at the familiar route. Ryan saw the cliff as a progression of moves. Left hand high and lunge for the pocket. Balance out, extend, and crimp the flake. The action string coalesced into a single perception. It would be a good climb.
Ryan sat, replacing his blocky street treads with climbing slippers. He laced into them, savoring their bite, the constriction of his toes, then he stood and put his hand to the rock.
It was old granite, knobby and sharp. The decision to begin always surprised him—the shift from passive to active made by some subterranean piece of his ’ware. He reached for the first hold, high and left, and his feet found the vertical.
He coiled his legs into his chest, the tips of his toes plastered to the rock, building energy. Thoughts shoved aside—his concentration filled by the pocket one meter above. Ryan centered on it, dialing life down to a single action. An explosive release, legs pushing, left arm pulling hard. He vaulted into the air. Right hand shot up, driving for that pocket—finding it with the very tips of his fingers. He slapped his left hand up to match his right. The granite’s knobbed grit dug into his palms as his full weight bore down. His feet gained purchase, relieving some of the tension. Ryan sucked in huge lungfuls of air, gazing up at the moves ahead.
He climbed smooth and well—cranking one move into the next. Space sprawled below, and his world ratcheted down. The climb swelled to become his whole existence. The past weeks dissipated. Shades of gray contrasted out. On the rock, there was only black and white—life and death. The power of this vertical world enveloped him. Freedom.
The scrape of metal on rock pulled Ryan from the zone. Tension pulsed through him. Fingers clenching, Ryan scanned, hunting for the sound’s source. He felt eyes on him. Fractured impressions pushed his field training to redline. Then, the granite before him pulsed—searing heat warping the dry air. Ryan’s illusion of control evaporated.
Crack. Fear blossomed. Handholds crumbled. Ryan couldn’t believe the input—refused to accept it. Adrenaline surged. He raked his fingers over the rock, desperate to regain purchase. Too late. His feet lost their grip. A splash of acceleration and the snap knowledge of doom.
Now, the grinding crackle of broken ribs pulled Ryan from memory, initiating him into death’s final act. Fear swirled through the pain. The gulping urgency to live stung hard. Seconds passed—an eternity. Then, the pain faded, replaced by a core-deep resignation. Ryan felt his body yield; he was beyond salvage.
The shock-blue sky forced Ryan to squint. A lead-heavy banality settled in. Ryan couldn’t believe this was his life, his death. No rhyme or reason, just stupidity and chaos.
Ryan released his final breath. The sun bit into him. Had the past weeks—hell, the past years—been worth it? Worth anything? He closed his eyes against the glare, then made a final choice. He opened wide and stared into the sun.
He died disappointed.
From the Trade Paperback edition.