Michael John Grist’s Soul Jacker is easily one of the most unusual and thought-provoking cyberpunk novels out there. This book is up there with the classics of the genre in terms of style, narrative voice, and introduction of new concepts.
Grist has built a world that is strange and fascinating both inside and out: memories are injectable, mind bombs can disrupt and destroy thousands of minds without leaving a physical trace, and we’ve honed hacking the human mind down to a fine (if dangerous) art.
Ritry Goligh is one such hacker, or Soul Jacker, a former marine left adrift by the end of the war he was created for. He’s a hard individual who’s made a lot of sacrifices in order to survive, but he isn’t a bad guy. Despite picking up the pieces of a psyche shattered by trauma multiple times throughout his life, he never quite succumbs to the darkness. I found myself really liking that about him. He’s a hero, if nothing else than because he refused to become a monster like those that surrounded him. In an ugly world, refusing to give in to cruelty is an act of rebellion.
Grist gives the reader plenty of demons to hate, though, (or cheer for, if that’s your thing.) This is a narrative that pulls no punches, and gory is an understatement for much of the action. We plumb the depths of a world ravaged by fuel wars and rising sea levels, as well as the depths of Ritry’s oft-broken-and-rehealed mind– a labyrinthine maze of hidden memories and missing pieces, hidden behind steel walls of protective scar tissue and stalked by monsters. And then of course there are the traps laid by the enigmatic character known as Mr. Ruin.
Soul Jacker is a wilder ride than I ever expected when I picked it up, full of dizzying highs and sickening lows that I found oddly satisfying. This is a novel that will thrill you, horrify you, and make you think about where we’re going. I loved it, and I think you will too.