Book Review: Ghosts of Tomorrow by Michael R. Fletcher
I received a review copy from the author. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Book 1
Publisher: Michael R. Fletcher (February 25, 2017)
Length: 396 pages
Readers coming to Ghosts of Tomorrow from Michael R. Fletcher’s Manifest Delusions series will find its themes to be very different, I suspect. Interestingly though, this book actually predates Beyond Redemption, being a revamped and republished version of the author’s first novel, which was a futuristic cyberpunkish sci-fi dystopian called 88. Still, from the fascinating premise to the amazing setting and characters, it’s clear everything about this book is pure Fletcher—that is to say, grim, gritty, and violently gory. In a way, it’s good to know that some things have never changed. For a fan like me, it’s a comfort, even.
The story takes place in the near future, when most of the world’s countries have consolidated into continental trade unions in order to compete in the global market. Technology has come a long way too, with the advent of brain scans and the ability to transfer a deceased person’s mind into machines called chassis. Not quite human and yet not quite a computer, these scans have effectively become a source of slave labor. While they have sentience and retain most of the memories and personality they had in life, scans are more or less immortal and can be tweaked like any program, making them a highly sought after resource in almost every industry. Officially, people become scans voluntarily, but because demand outstrips supply, criminal organizations have capitalized by churning out their own black market scans in illegal crèches. It’s a horrifying process: children are either illicitly bred, bought, or stolen from their homes, put through forced conditioning, and then killed for their precious brains which are then scanned and sold. Certain boutique crèches have even sprung up, brainwashing and training children to become loyal, unquestioning fighters intended for combat and assassin chassis.
For his first assignment as a special investigator for the North American Trade Union, newly graduated agent Griffin Dickinson is tasked to crack down on such illegal crèches. Unfortunately, his inexperience also leaves him unprepared for the grisly consequences of failure. In another place, a seventeen-year-old Marine named Abdul is killed in the line of duty, but medics rescue enough of his brain and consciousness to give him a choice: become a scan and continue working for the military, or die for real. Meanwhile, the world says goodbye to Mark Lokner, founder and CEO of the world’s largest manufacturer of Scanning equipment. Before his death, he was also famously known for refusing to be scanned, though in fact, Mark’s mind lives on in Lokner 1.0, watching his own funeral from a hidden server stored in a secret facility in Redmond, Washington. And somewhere deep within mob territory in Costa Rica, the scanned mind of an autistic girl known only as 88 awakens to her new reality. Bought for an exorbitant sum from a black market crèche, her scan was originally acquired by the South American Mafia to manage and expand their vast business empire by seeking out patterns in everything from financial markets to sports betting pools. However, all 88 wants to do is find her mom. And unfortunately for 88’s masters, she has all the mental and technological resources at her disposal to break free of their virtual chains.
Books like Ghosts of Tomorrow make me wonder why Michael R. Fletcher isn’t a bigger deal in the world of science fiction and fantasy publishing. I don’t even enjoy cyberpunk all that much, but I fucking loved this. Dare I say, in some ways it even appealed to me more than his Manifest Delusions, and I certainly did not expect that when I started this novel. These are the kinds of stories I enjoy though, gripping narratives about darkly philosophical subjects with plenty of intrigue and in-your-face action and violence mixed in.
Speaking of which, do not read this book if you are squeamish or prefer only safe, happy, familiar topics—because here you will find the complete opposite of all that. Innovative and surprising at every turn, the story is as fresh, bloody and raw as a slab of butchered meat, and in truth, most of Fletcher’s work should probably come with a “Persons who are faint of heart should not experience this attraction” warning sticker. You would think I’d know to expect that by now, but even I was somewhat taken aback by the massive destruction and astounding death toll in this novel. And yet, it’s all part and parcel of the world-building—the casual dismemberments, decapitations, and massacres all feeding into this atmosphere of bleakness and chaos.
In fact, with the escalation in violence and stakes growing ever higher, you may even find yourself thinking, “No way, this has gone too far!” or “Nah, this isn’t gonna work!” But you’d be wrong. Under different circumstances, Ghosts of Tomorrow might have been just another mindless action novel devoid of any soul, but Fletcher’s talent with characterization turned this story into a gripping experience that I could emotionally connect with. While the most dangerous and powerful people in Beyond Redemption are the ones touched with insanity, the smartest and deadliest of characters in Ghosts of Tomorrow are those with the psychological maturity of children—because that is in fact what they are. Scans like 88 or Archaeidae are little more than frightened, emotionally damaged and uninhibited killer kids who see the world as a game board and human lives as expendable game pieces. Whether you love them or hate them, the author’s characters are always deep, complicated, and terrifyingly genuine.
Unflinchingly twisted and mind-bending, Ghosts of Tomorrow is a gem of a novel, guaranteed to get under your skin and stay with you for a very long time. Michael R. Fletcher has done it again, enrapturing me with another ripping good read.