Whatever SF stands for these days, nothing beats good old-fashioned sci-fi. Not that there’s anything old-fashioned about Chris Wimpress’s #winning debut novel Joe is Online. It’s just plain good.
Wimpress submitted his book for review one month and one day ago, with a brief blurb and this to say: ‘Joe is Online’ spans continents and decades. Its setting is the boundary where the online and offline worlds meet. I was immediately intrigued. And I have a confession to make: while I really am “booked” up into 2012, I pushed Joe is Online to the front of the queue for a number of reasons. One, I’m an entirely unethical, dishonest reviewer (see review calendar disclaimer); two, I can’t resist the words “cyber-terrorism” in a book description; and three, I just wanted to read it. Shell out the $0.99 for an ebook copy and you won’t only not blame me–you’ll thank me.
the Scattering’s been live for 2 years and 2 days now (wish me happy birthday), and in the time I’ve been blogging I have had the good fortune to read (for free, which makes it especially good fortune) around 25 novels and short story collections by indie authors of the web, all of which were interesting, most of which were as good as anything selling from traditional publishers, and some of which were far above. Joe is Online is in the stratosphere.
Wimpress’s novel is a patchwork of plot, people, and an innovative writing style that, under the author’s guiding hand, coheres into a fully believable, thoroughly chilling image of the near future. Chris Wimpress wrote that Joe is Online takes place where the offline and online worlds meet, and he’s exactly right. We’re living in a time when our physical existence is getting more and more entangled in the virtual web of the World Wide Web–and, for better or worse, would have a pretty damn hard time getting along without it. The world of Joe is Online is a speculative one, sure, where timid academics join up with radical tele-atheists to fight a growing cyber-terrorist cult (for more information on how to get involved, contact email@example.com). But it’s our world too, and even more unnerving for that fact.
Joe is Online is about 5,000 Kindle locations–average novel length, but epic in scope. We start way back in the dark ages (the late 1990s), following an angry young boy named (guess who?) Joe, who might not have grown up to be a computer-hacking terrorist leader if he’d had more adults like the encouraging elementary school art teacher in his life. In a secret .doc diary, Joe lets us know that he’s playing what his history teacher calls “the long game” (and what LOST fans call “the long con”). And he means it. Joe grows up fast online, and becomes a cyber-cult leader so persuasive that, seriously, even I started getting sucked into his propagandistic emails. Maybe I’ve been reading too much Philip K. Dick, but what if the culture war is a set of competing constructs designed to pit people against each other so the powerful elites can gain ever more power, and social networking sites are just tools of our intelligence-gathering enslavers, and the only way to stop it is by spreading the “parcel” virus to every corner of the internet and purge the Web of the false idols so that… so that…
You get the picture. You get halfway through the book and these things start to sound… logical (and it’s friggin’ creepy, believe me).
It’s a testament to the author’s brilliant writing. Chris Wimpress’s skill in creating a compelling story from these emails and chat log snippets is nothing less than masterful. Without an omniscient narrator telling us what our villains and heroines are thinking, a less adept author might end up with flat characters and a jagged narrative flow. Luckily for the reader, Joe is Online gives us depth in characters such as the love-torn professor Penelope, and veiled mystery in our titular antagonist Joe (part of the fun is trying to figure out if our Dear Leader really believes what he’s saying, or is just as cynical as the middle-school hacker we first meet).
*** Final Verdict
Recommendation: Yes. Yes yes yes. Joe is Online gets five stars, two thumbs, and the Scattering’s Shindig Award, in honor of the fantastic book reviewed two days after the baby blog’s 2nd birthday. This is a novel to satisfy fans of Hard Sci-Fi (it has hackers!), Soft Sci-Fi (it has culture wars!), and Speculative Fiction (it’s in the future!) alike. From middle school art rooms, to the hallowed halls of academia, to every creepy chat room on the Net, Chris Wimpress knows exactly what he’s writing about, and takes us there is glorious technical. Or HD. Whatever.
Reading Time: 2-3 weeks, in the midst of studying for the GRE.
Availability: Find Joe is Online for $0.99 right here, as an ebook on Amazon.
Similar to… Robert J. Sawyer (FlashForward), Walter Jon Williams (This Is Not A Game), David Louis Edelman (Infoquake)