New York Times bestselling author Steven Kotler crafts a near-future thriller about the evolution of empathy.
Hard to say when the human species fractured exactly. Harder to say when this new talent arrived. But Lion Zorn is the first of his kindan empathy tracker, an emotional soothsayer, with a felt sense for the future of the we. In simpler terms, he can spot cultural shifts and trends before they happen.
It’s a useful skill for a certain kind of company.
Arctic Pharmaceuticals is that kind of company. But when a routine em-tracking job leads to the discovery of a gruesome murder, Lion finds himself neck-deep in a world of eco-assassins, soul hackers and consciousness terrorists. But what the man really needs is a nap.
A unique blend of cutting-edge technology and traditional cyberpunk, Last Tango in Cyberspace explores hot topics like psychology, neuroscience, technology, as well as ecological and animal rights issues. The world created in Last Tango is based very closely on our world about five years from now, and all technology in the book either exists in labs or is rumored to exist. With its electrifying sentences, subtle humor, and an intriguing main character, readers are sure to find something that resonates with them in this groundbreaking cyberpunk science fiction thriller.
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
|Product dimensions:||6.10(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.30(d)|
About the Author
STEVEN KOTLER is a New York Times bestselling author, award-winning journalist, and Founder and Executive Director of the Flow Research Collective. His books include Stealing Fire, The Rise of Superman, West of Jesus, andA Small Furry Prayer. His work has been translated into over 40 languages and appeared in over 100 publications, including the New York Times Magazine, Wall Street Journal, TIME, Wired, Atlantic Monthly, and Forbes.
Read an Excerpt
SOMEONE KNOWS SOMEONE
He steps off the plane and into a shimmering world. They've hidden the airport beneath a thick coat of dazzle. Depth of field in every direction. A parade of razor-thin screens, angled atrium glass, and staccato mirror work. Everything scrolls, winks, and blinks, but softly, like Sunset Strip on mute.
He can feel it, all this kinesis, like a twitch in his brain stem. It's old code, an ancient alert system. Any shiver in the outer peripheral registers as another living creature, another consciousness, potentially an opportunity, possibly a threat. This airport shivers too, even at this late hour.
Walking deeper into the terminal, he passes a crowded bar. A long row of shiny: gleaming marble counters, brushed chrome stools, and translucent hanging lamps. Enough live bodies that the vibe is happy-hour horny. The flavor is surprisingly poly-tribe, which is new slang for the global mash-up, the hybridization of signs, styles, and meanings that is somehow now: Liberty International Airport, Newark, New Jersey.
In Chile, he once got good dollars to em-track an early polytribe. This was over a decade ago, one of the first jobs of his em-tracking career, and back before anyone was paying anything for a skill that no one yet knew existed.
Except for the Japanese.
At the behest of some faceless Osaka-based mega-corp, he spent a month in Chile, hunting new and exploitable micro-demographics — a task, they suspected, for which em-trackers were particularly well-suited.
They were right.
He'd uncovered one of the early subcult melds, the first internet generation to carve their identity from a global menu of counterculture. Style-wise, they borrowed saggy hip-hop gear from West Coast rappers, cartoonish Gyaru makeup from the Japanese cosplay scene, and angular Emo hairstyles from the Washington, DC, post-hard-core crowd. Their attitudes crossed anything-goes California bisexuality with edgy Brit-punk sneer, a combination that led to a completely novel form of rebellion: wet-kissing strangers on the street.
This airport, he figures, is poly-tribe light — the safer upscale version.
Just past security, a tall Chinese man with dark glasses and a dapper cap holds almost his name on a sign. The placard reads JUDAH ZORN, so he almost walks on by. For a long time now, everyone's called him Lion. His real name actually is Judah, but a job in Jamaica turned that into "Lion of Judah," which stuck, and makes sense, but only if you speak Rasta.
It takes him a couple of steps to remember his real name.
Lion backtracks. "I'm Judah Zorn."
"Bo," extending a hand for his carry-on.
Bo starts toward the exit. Lion falls in a step behind him, noticing a series of white scars above a bar code tattoo on the back of Bo's neck. A new poly-tribe sign? Maybe Rilkean — though the Rilkeans are mostly a myth.
Like everything else, these facts get slotted. The data fed into the maw of Lion's adaptive unconscious, fodder for his pattern recognition system, fodder for his talent. A long time ago, Lion was a journalist. Now there's no real name for his job. An empathy-tracker, he's heard it called, also a wayfinder. Neither are exactly right. His old editor once gave him a T-shirt that read TRUTH SEEKER. That's probably closer, but not the kind of thing one puts on a business card.
The early researchers described em-tracking as a hardware upgrade for the nervous system, maybe the result of a genetic shift, possibly a fast adaptation. Studies revealed an assortment of cognitive improvements: acute perceptual sensitivity, rapid data acquisition, high speed pattern recognition. The biggest change was in future prediction. Normally, the human brain is a selfish prognosticator, built to trace an individual's path into the future. The em-tracker's brain offers a wider oracle, capable of following a whole culture's path into the future.
Also a decent way to make a living — which explains why he's on the East Coast.
Down an escalator and around a corner. In a seventeen-foot Chanel ad, Lion catches the reflection of his straight-world uniform: layered blacks and grays, like a secret bruise. Gray hooded sweater, dark wool coat. Black jeans appear to have slid up above black boots. From the waist down, he could be his earlier punk rock self. From the waist up, for a while now, he's not sure what the signifier signifies.
Bo takes a right turn at something menacing, maybe Eddie Bauer. Magazine stand. Starbucks. Out into the New Jersey night.
The SUV is idling at the curb, clearly an impossibility in today's hyper-security, or someone knows someone, that much for sure. Bulky black and scary polished. Bo opens the door, and Lion climbs inside.
The whisper-click of expensive engineering as the door shuts itself, the exhale of plush seats as he settles in. Like the upholstery is breathing and standard now, almost everywhere. Too comfortable is what Lion usually thinks; tonight he needs the swaddle. His post-plane system quivers with more human contact than he typically prefers. Emo-stim overload, the kids called it, one of the downsides of em-tracking.
The SUV glides into traffic with just enough motion that a paperback copy of Slouching Towards Bethlehem slides across the dashboard. This catches his attention. Slouching was one of the books that made him want to be a journalist. Could Bo really be a Joan Didion fan? With the bar code tattoo, a possibility. But the other option? Lion shivers at the idea that Arctic, his temporary employer, would have spent the money to dig that deep.
Bo glances right, hunting for something on the seat. The bar code on his neck contracts as he moves. In the scrunch, Lion can make out a single question mark, which is telltale Rilkean, their marching orders: Live the questions.
So maybe a myth no more.
But he doesn't have time to think about this. Bo found what he was looking for, and appears to be passing it to him over the partition. A skinny rectangular box, ornate and etched with dragons.
"From Sir Richard," he says. "You can, of course, smoke in the car."
In his grip, the box's exterior gives a little. It's the sigh of skin, of fauna, not flora, very soft, utterly wrong. Lion feels the flash that is almost, but not yet, angry.
"Not leather," says Bo, silencing his escalation. "Tissue engineering. Stem cells. Lab grown."
Puzzled replaces perturbed.
"Yeah," continues Bo, "animal friendly. But it's not my department. I was told to tell you this if you needed to know."
Lion catches Bo's eyes in the rearview.
"Sir Richard assured me — you would need to know."
As they pull into traffic, he's no longer wondering. Arctic clearly dug. But it's now so easy. How little remains hidden, how little it seems to matter.
"You know," says Lion, "I haven't met Sir Richard."
Bo doesn't answer, simply accelerates the SUV into silence. Lion tries to enjoy the ride. He flew into Newark intentionally, despite the longer trip into the city. LaGuardia, at night, like being lost in a funeral parlor. And he likes this view of New York better.
But it doesn't distract, or not enough.
Lion knows his information is available in any net search, even though he's paid for scrubbing. The suspected origin of his talent remains, like a Snowden stain, viewable via any browser.
So maybe it's nothing.
Opening the box, it's not nothing. Lion unearths one pouch of organic rolling tobacco, two packs of rolling papers, and five black vials marked with marijuana strains and blends. So either his agent is uncomfortably thorough, or the unmet Sir Richard leaves nothing to chance.
Proof of the latter sits in a vial marked GHOST TRAINWRECK #69. Ghost Trainwreck is the more familiar marijuana variety, crossing Neville's Wreck and Ghost OG and cranking out 30.9 THC, thus the nomenclature and the notoriety. But what he's holding — #69 — is a rumor. Urban legend for most; for Lion, on that Jamaica job, something else he saw coming.
Which is when he knows for sure. That ratchet-click of certainty deep in the reptilian dark of his brain stem. Somebody knows somebody; somebody did their homework.CHAPTER 2
GANGSTERING ET CETERA
Thirty minutes later and Lion's a little high as he walks into the Ludlow Hotel, which is the way he likes it. Through a door and into a dim corridor: a few low-slung chairs in oranges and reds, a rough-hewn table, stained gray, and a short check-in counter, dark woods. Beyond that, the lobby bar and an atrium, in tall plated glass, so the effect inverts, like walking inside to get back outside.
Crossing the entrance hall and heading to the check-in counter and, apparently, singing along with the sound track.
"Little hustler, probably die, gangstering et cetera."
Was that out loud?
It's a trick, of course. That thing the neuro-crowd has been doing to music lately, the trigger buried in the rhythm. It fires up the amygdala, a dash of flight-or-flight to create hyper-salience, hippocampal overactivation for enhanced recall, more Big Brother kind of shit. "Direct-to-memory" is how they describe it. Singing in public was his experience.
But before those ramifications fully land, the desk clerk hits him with the "We've been expecting you, Mr. Zorn."
He sees a skinny suit and a lilting afro.
"Lion," he says. "Just call me Lion."
Arctic's information is on file, so nothing's required but a signature. This he can manage. The clerk slides a key across the counter. A black fob attached to a swatch of animal leather, and just about the only thing Lion doesn't like about the hotel.
"Killing for stuff we don't need," he says, tapping the swatch on the counter and another thing he didn't really mean to say out loud.
The clerk lifts an eyebrow; the afro goes Tower of Pisa to the left. Neat trick.
"Good night, Mr. Zorn."
It's late, so good night to you too.
Starting toward the elevators, Lion crosses beneath a cluster of Victorian pendant lamps, but rapid pupil dilation caused by sleep lack sends the light bouncing around the lobby like pinballs. Makes it hard to walk and definitely a sign that his internal clock has begun the countdown.
So not a decision, the decision to head straight to his room.
T minus three minutes as he passes blondes, brunettes, the lobby bar on the right, the Dirty French restaurant on the left, then Bo, standing by the elevators.
"You left this in the car," handing him the dragon box for the second time in an hour.
Lion takes the box. He feels that fleshy feel again, but it's quickly overridden by the skunk of Ghost Trainwreck. Scents are primary signals, processed the fastest of all information feeds: straight to the brain's reactor core. Lion's core scents skunk. Pretty sure they can scent it up in Harlem too.
New York is still a holdout state — but Bo doesn't seem to care, so maybe Lion won't either.
A bellboy arcs a pair of Henk suitcases around them. They're the older, nonautonomous model, but still more machine than luggage. Each handcrafted from five hundred separate parts, including red Italian burl, black ebony, horsehair, magnesium, aluminum, titanium, carbon fiber, parachute silk, and fine leather. Together, they cost more than the bellboy makes in a year. So the weed stink coming from the dragon box — probably the least of his worries.
Also, did they have to use horsehair and leather? Goddamn 3D printers now work with over seven hundred materials.
Bo watches the bellboy depart, then passes Lion an oversized black envelope, thick rag weave and tied with brown string.
"Sir Richard asked that you review this before tomorrow's meeting."
Lion takes the box, the envelope, remembers to say thank you.
Out the front door and into the night, Bo ghosts. As he passes beneath a streetlight, Lion notices the bar code tattoo again, the silver outline of a question mark like twinkling fireworks.
Live the questions, said Rilke.
I cannot formulate the question that is my wonder, said Alan Watts.
Lion steps into the elevator, wondering how to resolve that conundrum. Then he wonders about his wondering. Then he gets it. Ghost Trainwreck, rumors confirmed: produces heavy pattern recognition. Significant em-trace potential.
T minus two minutes and a traction elevator from some slower decade. The gentle rise of the car, the centuries that pass along the way. Lion steps out into a skinny maze of hard corners, a standard New York hallway circa 19-something. Tells himself to get the key fob out, have it ready.
Even tired, he's good at following directions.
It's right, left, right, down a straight stretch, then the diamond brass plate on a white door reads 22. A wave of the fob, a click of the lock, a wave of exhaustion.
Sir Richard's envelope will have to wait.
"Execute," he says, stepping into the room, "execute fast unpack."
Suitcase in the closet, bathroom, bed, he tells himself, and in that order.
The bathroom walls are black-and-white tile, the bedroom cozy with high thread counts. Light switches are a convenient swat away. In the complete darkness and the fading middle C of a distant cabbie's horn, he almost has time for one final thought, a cold foreboding rising up from deep in his cortex — don't open that envelope — but he's asleep before it can register.CHAPTER 3
REAP A DESTINY
"Down by the Seaside" in cheerful synth tones pulls him into consciousness at 5:00 A.M. The signal has been long encoded, so he's feet on the floor by the second stanza. Sow an action and you reap a habit, sow a habit and you reap a character, sow a character and you reap a destiny. Psychologist William James paraphrasing philosopher Aristotle, and the first thing he thinks about this morning.
Then his habits: out of bed, cross to phone, silence alarm. Box of coffee pods on a tall gray table and auto-choosing Indigo Smooth. The chrome lever opens the drop bay and, without having to think about it, he slots the pod, locks the arm, and hears a satisfying click. The machine hums to life. Two buttons start glowing, the luminescent choice of small cup versus large cup.
But it's not actually a choice. The machine makes midget espresso or double midget. He chooses the lie that is large cup and robo-slides a mug under the nozzle. Every step done by rote, like playing scales, and the reason, he figures, James cared so much about habit.
While the coffee brews, he jumps in the shower. Clean lines, brass fixtures, and enough space that he can yoga out his back under hot water. Tea rose shampoo and hands in prayer pose, twisting over bent knees. And rinse.
A quick towel, a run of the razor, and he's stepping into his straight-world uniform: black jeans, gray sweater. Arctic sprang for a room with a terrace, so even though it's still chilly, he carries his coffee, a pocket Moleskine, Sir Richard's envelope, and the dragon box out a sliding door and into the elements.
Two chaise lounges, micro-fir trees in square wooden troughs, and seven stories' worth of view.
He crosses to a thin glass table beside a low brick wall, slides out a chair and feels the sure grip of the Modo outdoor model adjust to his frame. Then he faces the dragon box and an actual decision. This time he rolls 75-25, mostly tobacco, just enough Trainwreck that he can ride the double shot of THC and caffeine, not enough to muddy him for later.
He sips his coffee, lights the joint, and savors the view. The double-shot hit of the first hit hits. His pattern recognition system springs to life and the view reminds him of something, then something else.
Now he's ready to work.
Picking up the envelope, he unwinds the string, but the envelope stays sealed. Then he sees it, hidden under the flap, a small square of shiny black plastic. Flexible e-screen that must react to oxygen. With the flap now open, it wakes and pulses. Canary-yellow fingerprint outline glows, fades to black, then canary outline. The creators must have Apple lineage — Lion can feel the intuition built in.
He puts his finger on the e-screen and a nano-scanner kicks to life. A zip of light, a tiny click, the envelope opens.
Exactly as expected, that Apple lineage at work.
Out slides a small stack of newspaper article reprints and a handful of photos. The articles are regular stock, but the photos feel thick. Mesh electronics woven into the paper perhaps. The photos are also marked. Arctic's iceberg icon floats on the bottom right corner. Red Ice is their term, but it pulses hot pink, so Lion thinks Slushy dregs.
He glances through the stack quickly. All crime scene photos, by the looks of them. He'll look later. The clippings are the better place to start. His em-tracking machinery is driven by words more than images, but that's only his make and model. Empathy is related to intuition, and intuition is individually customized, tuned to dominant talents. Chefs need tastes, painters images. His experience is biblical: It starts with logos.
The clippings are in English, or maybe a translation AI made a pass. One from a newspaper in Dubai, one from Cape Town, a third from something New York local, The Upstate Register.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Last Tango in Cyberspace"
Copyright © 2019 Steven Kotler.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Someone Knows Someone,
Gangstering ET Cetera,
Reap a Destiny,
Hunting the Hunters,
On the Spectrum,
Out of the Dirty French, into the Slav,
Those Goddamn Monkeys Bite,
Everyone a Story,
Sweat, Kemosabe, Sweat,
In That Sleep of Death,
Clapboard Modern on a Sizable Lot,
Not the Opiate of the Masses,
Not a Rilkean,
Introduction to Millennial Semiotics,
The Double Tap of Holy Exclamations,
Lions and Lambs,
The Horror, Horror Blues,
Me Too and the Gimme-Gimmes,
Chief of Rilkean Relations,
The Cat Eye Open Source Project,
Better than Disneyland,
The Other Side of the Other Side,
Rocky Mountain High,
A Sheep Dog on a Short Chain,
Residual Goat Shit,
Between the Signifier and the Signified,
That Range Wee Shite,
Let Them Eat Crack,
Shut Your Mouth When You Talk to Me,
The Rod of Correction,
The Original Redemption Song,
Between Jah Rock and Jah Hard Place,
Mexican Amber Redux,
You Can't go into Space Without Fractions,
Truth or Consequences, Here We Come,
Space Ace, Por Favor,
The Problem Is Vibe,
On an Otherwise Lonely Night,
Got to See a Man About Some Baby Fat,
Looking for the Shit,
The Biggest Nothing in History,
Be Water, My Friend,
The Bene Gesserit Stay Strapped,
A Future in Meat Packing,
Some Day This War's Gonna End,
Minus the Goat Shit,
Brother, Can I Borrow Your Ninja?,
Them Days are Gone,
Fancy a Shag,
All You Can Do Is Your Inch,
Like Everybody on a Bus with no Brakes,
Fact From Fiction and Other Acknowledgments,
Also by Steven Kotler,
About the Author,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Before I get into my review, I would like to thank Netgalley and the publisher for giving me access to a free e-ARC of this book. *deep inhale* .... *slow exhale* Now... where to begin? I just could not get into this book and I feel like there are couple reasons why. Let's go one by one, in order of importance to me. First, the characters. I'm one of those people who needs to feel a connect with at least one of the characters in a story to really appreciate it. I pretty much hated every single character in this book. Seriously. All of the characters were just so boring. I feel like I've read about these kinds of characters in a million other books and they just didn't click with me. The only person I found slightly interesting (at first) was Penelope, the rando-love interest, but that interest quickly died. Especially after a certain "twist" near the end. Other than that, I had couldn't have cared less what happened to Lion, our main character, or anyone else involved in this book. Meh. Second, the writing style. It just did not work for me. It seemed so stilted and choppy and just... weird. There were several times were the writing style itself completely took me out of the story because it read like some robot locked in a room had written it. *beepbopboop* "Lion takes the box, the envelope, remembers to say thank you." *beepbopboop* Just... not into it. Last, the plot. The plot was the one thing that I could actually get behind in this book. It was interesting and unique. The whole concept of em-tracking and using empathy to, in a sense, predict the future was fascinating! I liked the mystery and the intrigue, as well. A lot of the "twists" were fairly predictable, but it was still an enjoyable ride to the finish. The plot is really the only thing keeping this book at two stars instead of one. So, there's that, I guess. All in all, I feel like this book could have done with a little more polish. Develop the characters more, flesh out the story more, and I could have probably gotten past the robotic writing style. In the end, this book just wasn't my cup of tea.
“Last Tango in Cyberspace” is an intriguing sci-fi novel, which follows an alternate timeline from now which is laden with technology. Lion Zorn is an empathy-tracker or em-tracker, who has a heightened ability to empathize which leads to cultural prognostication. He can get a sense for cultural trends and see where they are going before they have gotten there. This does not work on individuals but only on groups. He was a reporter, but now he works with companies to pay the bills by helping them em-track. Arctic Pharmaceuticals is trying to hire him with some gruesome pictures of a man whose head is mounted on the wall along with the big game he has hunted. Lion Zorn has a particularly empathy for animals and thus has a hard time examining the scene. His gut tells him this is not a case for an em-tracker, but the company is hard to turn down. As he explores the potential case, we explore this world and its new cultures, touching on issues of animal rights and environmental concerns. The pacing and style of writing were difficult for me to get into at first. I felt like I could be reading a movie script (and this would make a totally fascinating movie also). Soon, I was completely engulfed in the story. Through Lion, we understand everyone and the many concerns/problems our cultures face. I would highly recommend for fans of movies like Total Recall, Oblivion, and Blade Runner. While this does not take place in the future, it has a similar feel. There is a lot of drug use in the book- almost every chapter has one drug or another (most commonly is marijuana). This surprised me, but it certainly impacts the feel of the book and the way things are perceived. This was a really intriguing book, and I found the technology and science to be extremely well researched and very fascinating to read about. Notably, in the author’s note at the end, the technology in the book are from things that actually exist or are rumored to exist in labs somewhere. This is probably what made all of it seem much more plausible in terms of realism. The historical and ecological context of the book is also extremely intriguing and gives the story some extra oomph. Overall, this is a great new sci-fi book, and I recommend for people who love futuristic stories, mysteries, science, and hints of thrillers. Please note that I voluntarily read and reviewed an ARC which I received from the publisher through netgalley. All opinions are my own.