“Thrill Switch” by Tim Hawkin

Welcome to a Sci-Fi version of Silence of the Lambs. It involves the psychological conflict of a detective trying to persuade a convicted serial killer to help solve a continued —or new — killing spree, never sure whether her incarcerated client isn’t still functioning in the cyberworld.

The writing is in first person, so we get to see the main character in depth, well-written and sympathetic. The other characters range from realistic to uber-human because they range from the real world to the farthest reaches of imagination in cyberspace.

This book is moving into a new sub-genre of Sci-Fi, where the setting becomes the cyber world of the Internet. As our technical ability to create a cyber world grows, authors get better and better at predicting how that new version of reality might look. This particular novel posits a virtual reality where people leave their corporeal body in a safe place and, assuming an avatar, exist in the cyber world. Once we can cross the threshold to the point where our feelings as well as our thoughts are free to roam, then all sorts of interactions between avatars are possible.

Introduce into this world a psychopathic killer who starts with torturing and destroying avatars, but eventually moves to finding people’s living bodies and killing them for real. Add a federal government-level campaign to put controls on the cyber world to protect people, and a possibility for corruption due to the manipulation of cybercurrency. There are digital wheels within wheels, here, and different levels of reality to experience, with an intense level of conflict and suspense in every one of them.

Thematically, the book brings to life a discussion that becomes increasingly necessary as virtual reality becomes more and more realistic. How much psychological damage can you do to a human without touching their physical body?

To be picky, this author has not paid much attention to the reality of keeping the corporeal body alive and healthy for long periods of time. A minor glitch necessary for the plot to function, so the reader is willing to let it go.

Personally, I found this creativity a bit too much of a good thing. The hard science part of the plotline holds together pretty well, but it is so complicated that we lose track of what level we’re actually working at, and I sometimes suspect the author of playing fast and loose with the science in order to make the plot work.

A great example of the medium blending with the message and the setting blending with the writing style. If you are an up-to-date fan of everything Internet and Cyber-Reality, you will love it.

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