Xenoform by Mike Berry (book review).

March 5, 2015 | By | Reply More

This is a tale from our dark and dismal future where body modifications (bodymods) are all the rage. The general folk just have cosmetic ones such as the character in the opening chapter who has a pair of parrot wings. Others have mods to assist in their chosen career such as military, police and, of course, criminals. Legal bodymods are expensive which has given rise to the illegal bodymod market where prices are lower, but the risks are higher. As a by-product of this there is also an opening for Harvesters, people (criminals) who harvest other people so that they can sell on their bodymods presumably in the second hand market.

Xenoform

Another type of bodymod is to facilitate direct neural connections to the Internet and is known as DNI. This has become so prevalent that unmodified people are referred to as ‘meatheads’ and are considered a dying breed. Of course, you could still be a meathead and have other bodymods as indeed does Whistler, the leader of the band of Harvesters who are introduced to in Chapter 1. She has grey skin inscribed with blue lines, not to mention talons and rather sharp pointy teeth that can inject venom. These are extensive and expensive bodymods but, with no DNI, she’s a meathead. Other members of the team have varying degrees of bodymods, including DNI.

In chapter 2, we meet Debian who, as a computer hacker, has taken the neural connection to the Internet to a much higher level. It has come to be a central part of his very existence, although he doesn’t have any of the cosmetic bodymods that seem to be the fashion. Debian is a hacker for hire to anyone who is willing to pay although he has been taking contracts from the same organisation for a couple of years now. His usual contact has been replaced and the new guy gives him quite a lucrative assignment which should be relatively easy for Debian.

While there doesn’t seem to be much commonality between the Harvesters and Debian, apart from them being criminals obviously, their paths start to converge when things start to go wrong. Firstly, the Harvesters are told their last two collections were contaminated with a new and unknown organ and therefore unsellable. Secondly, while undertaking the hacking assignment Debian encounters an entity hidden in the target network that unleashes a ferocious attack on his software programs. Having overcome Debian’s aggressive and defensive programs, it then targets his neural connection only being thwarted when Debian manages to physically break the connection. All of the above has happened in the first few chapters so I’m not providing any spoilers here.

While I enjoyed the book and it has some very good ideas, it’s not without its flaws. There are at least a couple of chapters which are nothing to do with the central characters and just serve to detail the degradation of the city. These aren’t required and the space would have been better taken up developing the story of the Harvesting team members and Debian. Another weak area is the visualisation of the computer networks and Debian’s actions within the network. It’s presented as another world with its own landscape and inhabitants. I’ve been involved with computers all my adult life and information security for quite a bit, too. While I can see that the visualisation is a neat method to put difficult and complex concepts into an easy to understand format but it just doesn’t work like that.

Mike Berry paints a rather desolate picture of the future where criminal activity is tolerated and the police forces have fragmented and are now simply a variety of commercial organisations. The book ends well in that it reaches a logical point but you will be wondering what happens next. There is ample scope for a follow on novel and I do hope Mike Berry revisits this topic as I’d like to see what happens. This must be a reflection of the fact that Xenoform is an engaging read.

Andy Whitaker

March 2015

(pub: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. 348 ebook/paperback. Price: paperback: £ 9.99 (UK), Kindle edition £ 2.32 (UK). Paperback ISBN: 978-1-46634-399-3. Kindle ASIN: B005GXLKGO)

check out website: www.xenoformat.com/

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Category: Books, MEDIA, Scifi

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About the Author ()

I live in deepest darkest Essex where I enjoy photography, real ales, walking my dog, cooking and a really good book. I own an e-book reader which goes with me everywhere but still enjoy the traditional paper based varieties. My oriental studies have earned me a black belt in Suduko and I'm considered a master in deadly Bonsai (there are very few survivors).

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