“Darkly engrossing, SINthetic shines a stark light on the age-old question, what does it mean to be human?”
—Julie Kagawa, New York Times bestselling author
The Artificial Evolution
They look like us. Act like us. But they are not human. Created to perform the menial tasks real humans detest, Synths were designed with only a basic intelligence and minimal emotional response. It stands to reason that they have no rights. Like any technology, they are designed for human convenience. Disposable.
In the city of New Lyons, Detective Jason Campbell is investigating a vicious crime: a female body found mutilated and left in the streets. Once the victim is identified as a Synth, the crime is designated no more than the destruction of property, and Campbell is pulled from the case.
But when a mysterious stranger approaches Campbell and asks him to continue his investigation in secret, Campbell is dragged into a dark world of unimaginable corruption. One that leaves him questioning the true nature of humanity.
And what he discovers is only the beginning . . .
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The neon signs glowed sullenly, sending sickly tendrils of light slithering down the rain-soaked streets like so many diseased serpents. Once bright and inviting, the reds and blues and greens had dimmed and paled, sloughed off the flush of health, and left behind a spreading stain of false illumination that heralded nothing but sickness and decay. The signs themselves, flickering and buzzing, wheezing like something that wanted to die, something that should have died long ago, offered up a thousand different sins, unflinching in the frank descriptions of the acts taking place within the walls that they adorned.
I stared at those signs, indistinct and hazy beneath the mantle of falling rain. The mist softened their lurid offers, restoring, however imperfectly, an innocence the city lost long ago. As the gentle caress of a silken veil added mystery to the sweeping curves of the female form, hinting at secrets far more tantalizing than the revealed flesh beneath, the cloak of rainfall shrouded the city's darker side, softening its edges and lending it an air that approached civility.
Approached civility, but did not — could not — achieve it.
With a sigh, I turned my eyes away from the cityscape, and dropped them to the pavement beneath my feet. To the body that rested there, or what was left of it.
After nearly ten years on the job, I still had to fight down the bile threatening to crawl its way up my esophagus and force its insistent path between my teeth. The body — so much easier to think of it as "the body" and not "the woman" — lay flat on its back, arms stretched out above its head and crossed at the wrists, legs spread akimbo. No clothing. Nor could I see any discarded garments in the immediate area. The pose, purposeful and meticulous in its own horrifying way, was a parody of passion. It was a pose that was likely even now being played out in many, perhaps most, of the establishments adorned with the gasping neon signs.
With one very notable difference.
Vestiges of beauty clung to the woman, holding desperately to a youthful vivacity that was losing an inexorable battle to the unnatural slackness of death. Makeup adorned that face, hiding the pallor beneath blush and eyeliner, lipstick and shadow, only now beginning to fade and run beneath the unrelenting assault of a thousand raindrops. Her features were symmetrical, regular, past the awkwardness of youth, but not yet touched by the wrinkles or worry lines that would fell all of us in time.
I forced myself to look past her face, past the strong lines of her outstretched arms, sweeping past her bared breasts and to the ... emptiness ... that extended beneath her sternum.
From her lowest ribs to the tops of her thighs, the woman had been ...
I realized I didn't have a word for what had been done to her. The words that stormed through my mind — savaged, brutalized, tortured — leaving a teeth-gnashing anger in their wake and making my stomach twist itself into a Stygian knot, were almost certainly true, but they did not describe what lay before me.
The word floated up from somewhere in my subconscious, bringing with it memories of carving into pumpkins and scooping out the seeds and ropey innards with big plastic spoons made slick and awkward from the pulpy mess.
I clamped my teeth so hard that a lance of pain shot along my sinus cavities, but it kept me — if only just — from vomiting.
The skin and muscle had been removed from the woman's stomach and groin. The organs that should have been present — stomach, intestines, kidneys, everything south of the lungs — were gone. The tissue beneath them, the muscles along the spine, back, and buttocks remained, exposed to the air and rain. I could just make out pinkish gray tissue poking from beneath the ribs, so I guessed the lungs, and probably the heart, were intact and in place.
There was no blood.
The steady rain had formed a small pool in the resulting cavity, taking on a cast more black than red in the dimness of the night. No more blood on the body. No more blood at the scene.
"Holy Mary, Mother of God."
The heartfelt exhalation came from behind me, and I glanced over my shoulder, tearing my eyes from the horror before me. The uniforms had finished cordoning off the area, spreading the yellow tape in a rough perimeter maybe twenty yards in diameter. Even on a night like this, in a neighborhood like this, a crowd had gathered, a few dozen people pressed up against the tape as if it were the glass wall at an aquarium, desperate to peer into the darkness and see the wonders and horrors within. All of them pointed screens in my direction or stared with the strange motionless intensity of someone wearing a recording lens. I prayed that the darkness, rain, and distance would cloud their electronic eyes, and grant the woman what little privacy and modesty were left to her.
Halfway between me and the tape stood a small, trim man in his late forties. A fuzz of iron-gray hair sprouted from his head like a fungus, and a pencil-thin beard traced the line of his jaw. He wore blue coveralls, stenciled with the words "Medical Examiner" in gold thread. Dr. Clarence Fitzpatrick had been medical examiner in New Lyons for longer than I'd been a cop. We had worked some gruesome homicides, scenes far messier, at least in terms of scattered gore, than what lay before us. But nothing quite so damn eerie.
"Yeah," I muttered. "What can you tell me?"
He made his way to the body and knelt by it, blue-gloved hands extended over it as if trying to divine information from the ether. "Liver temp is out of the question," he said. There was no humor in his voice, no attempt to make light of the nature of the remains; he was simply stating the facts of the case before him, retreating behind cold professionalism. It was something you learned quick on the job. Those who could not put a wall between the atrocities and their own souls never lasted long.
He touched the flesh of the woman's arm, pressing against it, feeling the elasticity. "No rigor mortis, which means that death was either very recent or she's been gone awhile."
He panned a flashlight across the body, the pale flesh luminescing under the harsh white light. "No discoloration of the remaining tissue. The damage sustained to the torso is sufficient to cause death, but there is no way to tell in situ if that occurred before or after she expired. Though if it had been done here, we would certainly be seeing a lot more blood, even with the rain." He spoke in short, clipped bursts, keeping the medical jargon to a minimum, for my benefit no doubt.
His hands moved to the woman's head, peeling back the eyelids. "Cloudy. Most likely, she was killed more than twelve, but less than forty-eight hours ago. Apart from the obvious evisceration, there is no readily identifiable cause of death." He cupped the woman's face in his hands, twisting it gently to the side, continuing his field examination. He brushed back the dark locks of her hair, revealing the back of her neck. A deep sigh, a sound of relief, not regret, escaped him. "Thank God," he said.
I stared down at the woman, not really seeing what the doctor saw, but I knew what would be there. Only one thing could have drawn that reaction from Fitzpatrick. A raised pattern of flesh, roughly the size of an old postage stamp, darker than the surrounding skin and looking for all the world like an antiquated bar code. The tissue would be reminiscent of ritualistic scarring, but, unlike the woman herself, would not have known the touch of violence. It could be called a birthmark, but "birth" was not a word applied to the lab-grown people that were, collectively, known as synthetics. They bore other names, of course, dozens of them, all derogatory, all aimed at dehumanizing them further, at driving home the point that, though they might look and act and feel like us, they were not humans.
Dr. Fitzpatrick was not immune to that dehumanization. "Thank God," he said again. "She's a mule."
"You hear me, Campbell?"
Fitzpatrick was staring at me, the dead woman's — the synthetic's — head still clutched in his hands. His grip, I noted, had changed, losing any sense of tenderness, any hint of care. He might as well have been holding a basketball or a cantaloupe.
"Yeah, I heard you."
"Good." He stood up, pulling the gloves off one at a time with an audible snap. "Then I guess I'm done here."
"Fitzpatrick, wait," I said, out of pure reflex. He looked at me, one eyebrow raised in silent surprise.
Under the law, synthetics didn't have rights. They were less than people on a level so profound that they were relegated to objects, to things. If you found a broken toaster in the middle of the street, you didn't call the police, or the medical examiner. You kicked it to the curb and trusted that the sanitation department would catch it in their next sweep. NLPD wouldn't just leave a body — even a synthetic — for the garbage men, of course. Artificially created or not, the corpse of a synthetic was subject to the same laws of decomposition as every other organism, and there was a public health issue with leaving it rotting in the streets. No, it would be removed by the paramedic crews, taken to the closest morgue, and, by law, cremated as soon as — no pun intended — humanly possible.
Taking with it any and all evidence that might help me find out who had done this to the poor girl.
"I want a postmortem done on the synthetic," I said, trying to keep my voice emotionless.
"What? Sorry, Campbell, but I've got enough real bodies back in cold storage that need my attention. I don't have time to go playing doctor on someone else's toy." The words were cold, callous, and, at the same time, probing.
I clamped my teeth on the angry retort that tried to burst forth. I had a reputation at the precinct, one that had stuck with me since my military days. It didn't matter that my juvenile record had been not just sealed, but expunged, or that nothing in my actual service record showed anything out of the ordinary ... well, at least if you didn't count the large number of "redacted for national security" items as extraordinary. Somewhere along the line, I'd been labeled a synthsympathizer, one of those people who held the delusional — at least according to society — belief that synthetics were real people and deserved to be treated as such. Most of the time, the rumors earned me nothing more than the occasional sideways glance, but anytime something came up involving a synthetic, those glances got a certain "torches and pitchforks" look about them.
I stared down at the body, and couldn't help but see another girl, another pool of blood. I'd seen so many. So many bodies. My time as a soldier could be measured in the dead. The endless wars over whatever radical ideology was the enemy du jour and the equally endless disaster relief work stemming from the kinds of superstorms that had finally sunk New Orleans. My time as a cop had been better, but still measured in blood. Fuck. I couldn't just let it go.
"Look, Fitzpatrick, I know she's a mule." I hated the term — a derogatory reference to the sterility inherent in the synthetics — but I used it anyway. "But this isn't normal. If someone wants to carve up their toys in the privacy of their own home, and then dispose of the ... remains ... appropriately, that's fine." It wasn't fine. It was a long damn way from fine and it made me feel like eight layers of sleaze to say it, but I kept on. "But whoever did this left a big damn mess for someone else to clean up. You don't do that unless you want attention. And anyone who wants attention that bad won't be content to play with toys for very long." I shrugged, trying to make the gesture as casual as possible. "Honestly, I'd be far more concerned if I thought the perp was a synth, but if someone's working their way up to the majors, we need to know."
"Impossible," Fitzpatrick announced at once. "The programming of the synthetics is clear. They can't harm us. Their purpose is to serve and obey. It's fascinating, actually. I wish I understood the process better, but Walton Biogenics doesn't release much information on their products." He came to an abrupt stop as he caught the look on my face, no doubt realizing he had started to ramble. Fitzpatrick was clearly interested in the topic, and why wouldn't he be? Synthetic tissue had been a part of the medical field for decades, but when it came to full-fledged synthetic life Walton Biogenics made sure that they kept the secrets of synthetics locked down tight, so competitors and potential black marketers couldn't edge in on their profit margins.
"Still ..." Fitzpatrick's eyes had narrowed, and a frown tugged the corners of his lips. He wasn't convinced, but he hadn't walked away, either, and I could tell that the thought of a synthetic in his lab intrigued him. He wasn't a bad guy, really. Just another government slug, doing his job as best he could. The only thing he seemed to take any joy in was shepherding along his assistants; less, I thought, from seeing them do well, and more from the sense of pride he took in being the one who helped them get there. Which gave me another tack to take.
"Look, Doctor," I said, making the honorific as respectful as I could, "I want to find out who did this and make sure they don't need to be put in a nice, safe, rubber room before they start cutting real people. You don't have to do the autopsy yourself. No laws or regulations getting in the way of one of your assistants working unsupervised on a synthetic, right? You can even look at it as a test for one of them — an odd case, lots of missing parts, very little in the way of physical evidence. What can they find out on their own?" I gave him a conspiratorial grin.
Fitzpatrick arched a single eyebrow. "Why do I get the feeling, Detective, that you are playing me?" I met his look, keeping the grin on my face and giving him the smallest suggestion of a shrug. The medical examiner was a smart man, but even the smartest of men could get caught up in their own ego.
"Still," he said at last, "it is a very interesting idea, and certainly a most unusual case. You understand that my assistants are not medical doctors, and none of them are fully trained. They may well miss some vital piece of evidence."
I wasn't exactly spoiled for choice. "I understand, Doctor. But they've been trained by the best. I've got complete faith in whoever you assign." I worried, for a moment, that I had laid it on too thick, but, apparently, that wasn't possible. A genuine smile split Fitzpatrick's face and I could almost see the gears turning in his head as he cycled through his assistants, trying to pick out the one best suited for the task.
"Very well, then. It will be an interesting experiment, to be sure."
Fitzpatrick gave me a curt nod, and then bustled off, grabbing a pair of paramedics and giving them detailed instructions on dealing with the remains. I felt a slight thrill of relief course through me. It wasn't a huge victory, but sometimes the little win was all you could count on.
There wasn't much left to do at the scene. The synthetic's ID could be pulled easily enough — that's what the tags were for, after all. It would be the first thing Fitzpatrick's assistant — whichever one won the prize of performing the autopsy — would do, so I'd have that information soon enough. The uniforms were checking the area, and a few were conducting knock-and-talks along the rows of liquor stores, synth-brothels, and worse, but I knew that no one would have seen anything. In this type of neighborhood, no one ever did.
I turned the scene over to the uniforms and climbed into my car. I reclined the seat as far as it would go, lying nearly flat. "Home," I said, throwing one arm over my eyes.
"Voice recognition confirmed," the car replied in a toneless, androgynous voice. "Destination: home. Is this correct?" "Yeah," I growled.
The engine — electric — started with a faint hum, joined in a moment by the thrum-thrum-thrum of the windshield wipers. Why the self-driving vehicle even bothered with wipers was beyond me. Unless I took manual control, there was no need for windows at all, but sometimes necessities from the past clung desperately to the present.
As the car accelerated, I pulled out my screen and tapped my news app. The video started at once, and with a flick, I sent it to the interior of the windshield. The transparent glass immediately changed, going momentarily black and then filling with the image of a newsroom. The anchors, one male, one female, sat behind a curved desk. Both were attractive, but lacking in the perfect bilateral symmetry common to synthetics ... and made normal humans seem almost bland in comparison. The broadcast wasn't live — only truly monumental events ever were, anymore. Instead, the feed that I was watching was an amalgam of previously recorded segments, automatically selected by the filters I had set in place and edited into a seamless video that was almost indistinguishable from a continuous feed.
Excerpted from "SINthetic"
Copyright © 2018 J.T. Nicholas.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
So I just finished SINthetic and I have to say that if anyone goes into this book thinking J.T. Nicholas' writing style is an extension of his Wife Julie's, they are wrong. It is wholly unique and completely epic!! 5 STARS!!! It has an air of IRobot (without the robots and the Detective is on the side of the Synths), and with a fresh take and a unique spin on what could happen with Genetic Engineering. What could happen if people suddenly decided to start playing God?? It kept me intrigued, held my attention, and had me trying to put together clues and guess what was going to happen next. It is fast paced, and a darker take than a lot of sci-fi/fantasy books now-a-days, which I completely loved. I can't wait to get my hands on SINdicate!!
SINthetic brings us a dystopian world where genetically modified and synthetically mass-produced humans, also known as Synthetics are treated like a renewable resource, and stripped of personhood and rights. In most of the world and New Lyons (built over New Orleans), where this story takes place, Synthetics are basically legal slaves in a society that doesn't consider them even human. They are treated worse than animals, more like things, despite them looking like humans, having the same make-up as humans. I mean, it is not a stretch of the imagination when you think about it - humanity has had a dark dark history. So, in this slave-world that benefits the 'real' humans and make a utopia for the latter, a police detective who sympathizes with Synthetics comes across a murder case where a Synthetic has been killed. The stakes for the murder case are that Detective Campbell has to do the investigation on the down low. Sympathizing with Synthetics is looked down upon in this society and at first, he wants to keep his job and hide his own past. He is 'aided' by a Silas, a mysterious Synthetic who knows a lot but it cagey about stuff. His partner on the case is a Gang violence department detective, Hernandez, who while a fierce morally upstanding woman, is like most of the society, blind to the plight of the Synthetics. Add in some corporate corruption, conspiracies and a series of murders, you have a plot that is engaging and convoluted. While taking us deeper and deeper into the mystery, it also constantly envisions and warns us of a future built on the concept of 'otherness' that drives a lot of conflict in the contemporary world. That corporate greed, and capitalism could someday make us forget what it is to be human. It again and again drives home the point of what such an extreme slavery-built society would look like. The fact that the Synthetics are, for the most part, limited in choices and options due to conditioning and lack of any other purpose than to serve is heart-breaking. More heart-breaking is the fact that through the eyes of Campbell, we see how his fellow 'humans' treat the Synthetics and he can't even help for the most part because laws protect them. At first, I thought he was an unusual choice of protagonist for such a story - aren't most stories about revolution better to be from the side of the oppressed - but then towards the ending, it made sense why he, though in a fairly privileged position, was still a good narrative choice. The book shines in the plot, but the writing has yet to match up to it. It feels superfluous at times, like devoting an entire chapter to a pissing match (and literal bout) between two police officers (which I skimmed because so not interested). Then there are times when Campbell describes his whole data mining process - like, I like the attention to detail when it came to the world-building in this book, but that went above and beyond what was required to 'boring and waste of my time' category. Seriously, there are VERY detailed fight scenes too, which rob the writing of the fluidity and pace that these scenes require and relegate them to dragging along while you wait for this supposedly intense life-or-death combat to end. Like, if I could sum up the problems in one word it would be pacing - I was waiting for it to be more exciting, more fast-paced to match the intensity of the plot but it was pretty slow for the first half and marginally better in the second.
SINthetic by J.T. Nicholas is a highly recommended science fiction novel. Detective Jason Campbell is called to a murder scene in the city of New Lyons. A female body has been found mutilated, cut open with the internal organs missing, and left in the streets. But once the investigators realize the body is a Synth, the crime is designated as the destruction of property, and no investigation is needed. Campbell has no murder case. In the future Synthetics, known as Synths, are lab-grown people that under the law have no rights. They are mules. They are made to do the menial jobs that no one else wants to do. Legally, "they were less than people on a level so profound that they were relegated to objects, to things." While Campbell may disagree with the system, he knows he can't fight it and keep his job. He does talk the medical examiner into having one of his technicians look for any clues, just in case this event signals the beginning of a serial killer. When he returns to his home in Floattown, a bad neighborhood where cheap prefabricated buildings are built on VLFSs (very large floating structures) over what was once the city New Orleans, he is shocked to find a stranger in his apartment, sitting in his recliner. The man is a Synth, and he asks Campbell to secretly investigate the death anyway, because this dead Synth isn't the first. The stranger gives him a list of dead Synth's who were all killed in the same way. SINthetic has an engaging premise and will capture your attention immediately. The writing is good and the plot carefully planned to slowly release more information about Campbell and his background. You know that Campbell has some mysterious event in his background that opens him up to being sympathetic to the treatment of Synths. He is also a master of martial arts and fighting, which will come into play several times. There are pros and cons to this novel. It is the first book in a new series, which is great, but it also felt like the action, story, and pages in this first book were cut down way-too-much, perhaps to facilitate the new series. The investigation felt attenuated. Yes, it is compelling and full of great action sequences. It comes to a satisfying conclusion, but it comes to that conclusion to the investigation rather quickly and abruptly. It might have been more satisfying if there were a few more twists and turns to the investigation - a little more intrigue and subterfuge. This first book nicely sets up what will be the second book in the series, SINdication, which is to be released just under a month from this one, on March 20th. It is nice to know the second book will be following the first so quickly, but I couldn't help but feel how much more satisfying it might have been for me, as a reader to get these two books together. SINthetic is only 176 pages. SINdication is 304 pages. The third book, SINdrome is scheduled for release on 9/18 with an estimated 304 pages. Series are sometimes nice for long tales, but there is something to be said in getting the whole story, or a larger chunk of it, quickly. Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Kensington Books