2153. Post-cataclysm. The last city exists beneath a dome where the mysterious benefactors 'The Family' tightly control the population with a death lottery and a semi-autonomous network.
All is well until the day family man Gerry Cardle, head of the death lottery, inexplicably finds himself the no.1 target of a malicious Artificial Intelligence. Gerry's numbers are up, and he has just 7 days to save himself, find the source of the AI, and keep the last stronghold of humanity safe.
Gerry finds help in the shadows of the city from two rogue hackers: Petal - a teenage girl with a penchant for violence, hacking systems and general anarchy, and: Gabriel - a burnt-out programmer-turned-priest with highly augmented cybernetics.
With his new team, Gerry discovers there is more beyond the dome than The Family had let on, and his journey to find the source of the AI leads him through a world of violence, danger, and startling revelations.
Everything is not as it seems. Gerry is not who he thinks he is. Evil can be coded…. Can Gerry and his friends stop it before it destroys humanity? (Synopsis from Goodreads)
Artificial Evil combines cyberpunk with a post-apocalyptic world. Many, if not all, cyberpunks tend to take place in some kind of dystopian future, but this felt quite unique to me, merging computer speak, hackers and high levels of tech with a desert-wasteland landscape where much of civilisation has been destroyed.
These two sub-genres actually seem slightly incongruous together – how is it possible for the kind of sleek, high-tech gadgetry and virtual reality of cyberpunk, not to mention its themes of militant capitalism and evil corporations, to exist in a world that has been decimated and where physical resources are scarce? Post-apocalyptic stories tend to feature bands of humans fighting for their lives, perhaps re-building civilisation, not hacking elite security networks and constructing artificial life.
However, the author does pull this off extremely well. There’s City Earth, a domed super-city more reminiscent of cyberpunk settings, protected from the ravaged outside world. Inside, the populace is controlled by The Family, a mysterious and powerful organisation. Outside the city the world is a wasteland, but survivors cling to their old way of life, with machinery and gadgets and even robots. There are computers left from before the Cataclysm, and life-forms that are part-human, part-A.I., as well as some intelligent individuals with their own mysterious agendas. Add to this the idea that evil can be programmed, and viruses infiltrating the city and its people like demons. Gerry and his friends are techxorcists, hackers skilled enough to be able to ‘exorcise’ the demons from the network.
There are so many ideas swirling around in this book, and the author keeps them under control at all times, so that they seem to slide naturally together. The overall feeling is of something between Neuromancer, Blade Runner, Mad Max and The Exorcist. It’s kinda crazy, but it works.
While the world feels convincing, at the same time it seems slightly deceptive or false, like a high-def TV screen showing one, polished version of reality, as if we can never be quite sure what’s real and what’s not. The latter element complements the story perfectly, as everything Gerry has known collapses around him and he’s left struggling for answers as well as having to question his own humanity. Gerry is a very easy character to like; he’s confused but quick to adapt, is compassionate and skilled, he’s been cruelly torn from his old life, and despite everything that’s happened to him he manages to be sympathetic without being angsty. The book did remind me a few too many times just how special Gerry is, which got slightly annoying at points, but the revelation of who (or what) he is was very interesting.
The story is exciting and races forward from beginning to end without any bits that drag. There’s enough mystery to really intrigue the reader, but plenty of action and character development to keep all the unanswered questions from dominating the plot. Most of these are addressed at the end (in a great finale), with some cliffhangers for the second book. There’s also a satisfying revelation about The Family, turning them from what could have been a clichéd ‘bad guy’ into something much more ambiguous. I really liked this; it took the concepts and themes of cyberpunk but played around with the typical all-out-evil corporation-villain of the genre, while also exploring the more post-apocalyptic focus on normal humans' mistakes and immorality, and the fight to survive. I thought the book raised some interesting questions about evil (appropriately enough considering the title): where does evil come from? Can it be programmed? I would have liked the concept of artificial evil to have been explored even further, but I’m hoping that will be touched on more in the sequels.
An exciting story, good characters, a really well-written world, and quite a unique vision of a future setting – I really enjoyed Artificial Evil and I'm looking forward to book two!
Thank you to Colin F. Barnes for providing a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.