Sam Crane is an information speculator that arrives at the murder scene of a high society doctor, Xian Mako. His only clue is a pair of antique galvanic spectacles that the doctor was holding at the time he was killed. Sam investigates the homicide through a commercially dystopian future where advertisements are mandatory, planned obsolescence is ubiquitous, and augmented reality is the new craze. To solve the murder he must navigate through corporate bureaucracy that is, at best, overly litigious, and deadly at its worst. Sam finds that the doctor’s murder is only a small cog in a much larger machine that Sam has only glimpsed the shadow of. He must step further into the augmented reality trend and go to the cutting edge of corporate advertisements to unravel a mystery that threatens to simultaneously make everyone’s life better and turn them into slaves for marketing companies.
The book depicts a neo-noir dystopian San Francisco in which technology and marketing has invaded everyday life. A new form of marketing has emerged called Oversight which overlays an augmented reality on top of everything you see. It’s manufactured by a powerful mega-corporation, but is sought after by terrorists and government agencies alike for nefarious purposes. The book describes a beautifully bleak future with details I never thought of; “He stumbles into the shower, but the water is off again. Retribution by City Water, no doubt, for buying the basic service package without the pipe-security upgrade.” Sam has a virtual assistant that helps him access the internet along with other things, but she also schedules advertisements based on where he’s going and what he’s doing so that the advertisements he passes on the street are completely personalized. Which is cool, but what makes it scary is that it’s almost mandatory, to the point where he has to pay sponsors for quiet time where he receives no advertisements at all. This leads to amusingly appropriate advertisements later in the novel when Sam is running for his life from people that want to kill him and then is shown advertisements for running shoes. It’s the small details that really sell the authenticity of the world, like clothes that last a certain amount of time before they disintegrate and you have to buy new ones; capturing the epitome of planned obsolescence. I thoroughly enjoyed the novel, although I found Sam’s character dry at times, the world is meticulously created and the ideas that are presented are entertainingly thought provoking. It’s a murder mystery story at its core, but the story regularly detours into commentary on socialism and commercialism that doesn’t do much to move the story along. The story is well written with language often becoming poetic before coming back to being candid and incisive. This was a short novel that hit all the right notes for me. There are eight fairly long chapters, but it feels like no words are wasted to create a world that resonates with the style of Blade Runner and the world building of Neromancer.