2020 has been a year that I feel has cemented my view that I live in a cyberpunk dystopia. Politicians have seemed more ridiculous, the propaganda more blatant, the technology more advanced, and the rich more sinister than ever before. With that, my reading tastes have returned to one of my favorite genres in that neon rain-soaked vision of reality that was popularized by Gibson and Sterling. Today’s offering is an independent novel, Mercury’s Son, by Luke Hindmarsh that I’m pleased to say has a review of mine quoted on its cover: “Blade Runner meets Memento.” I stand by that description.
The premise is that the world has suffered an environmental collapse and is now largely uninhabitable. The Temple of the Wounded Mother, a pro-environment Luddite church that blames humanity for all the ills of the world (fair cop), has taken over civilization and forced humanity into sealed arcologies. They regularly send out their fellow humans into the wilderness to help clean up the mess, even though this will kill them. Like all great corrupt churches, the Temple of the Wounded Mother is completely hypocritical in their views. While being anti-technology, they also maintain a monopoly on it to make sure they can control the masses.
Perhaps their most effective agent is Valko, a survivor of the war that destroyed the environment. He is a cyborg supersoldier that was cryogenically frozen for much of the world’s transformation from an advanced posthuman civilization to something closer to our own level of technology with rare exceptions. Worse, the events have left him with no memory of his past and a bitter resignation to working for people he hates because it’s a paycheck. Also, presumably, you don’t want to tick off the anti-technology government when you depend on technology to survive.
The book starts with the murder of one of the world’s few remaining scientists and Valko being dispatched to clear the case. However, given the scientist’s controversial views, it is entirely possible he was killed by the Temple of the Wounded Mother itself. So it becomes a delicate balancing act of investigating someone his superiors want the murder of solved while also not potentially upsetting his own position. In the end, Valko has to also determine how much of his remaining ethics he’s willing to throw away on behalf of a self-interested cult.
One of the most interesting elements of the book’s tech is the fact that Valko has the ability to read memories. It is not an ability without its risks and threatens to disturb what precious remaining sense of self-image he still has. However, I really liked this bit of technology and the potential uses it has in murder investigations. Valkyo has a somewhat ambivalent relationship with his cybernetics too as he wasn’t a transhumanist when he was upgraded for war and now there’s no way to reverse his condition. It leads to some interesting moments when he finally gets to meet with some pro-technology humans that don’t view him as a person first but a relic of a better time period.
The world-building is excellent and I really enjoyed exploring its dark, dystopian setting. It’s kind of interesting to note that for all the fact it is run by a fanatical corrupt religious organization and is in an environmental wasteland, society has more or less stabilized. Technology may have regressed and society but it human extinction seems to have been headed off for now. Extreme measures to let the environment rebuild itself over the course of centuries might even be justified, at least if you believe their propaganda. These are the kind of questions I found myself asking.
In conclusion, I highly recommend Mercury’s Son. It is a solid piece of cyberpunk dystopian fiction and the protagonist is a really interesting character. Environmentalism is a frequently overlooked element of fiction and it plays an important role in this story without being preachy. I think fans of Blade Runner and stories dealing with memories as well as the flexibility of truth will find it quite entertaining.