Mira Grant’s 2017 Final Girls is an upcoming standalone work.
Jennifer Webb has invented a new virtual-reality-based therapy and opened an institute to test and develop it. Seeking publicity and credibility, she offers Esther Hoffman, an investigative journalist, a chance to visit the institute and report on the new tech.
This would seem to have been a bad choice. Hoffman is a professional debunker with a strong personal grudge against pseudoscience therapies. But it is that very grudge that makes Hoffman a credible reporter. If Webb can convince Hoffman that the therapy has merit, Webb can convince everyone else.
The question that kickstarts many good plots: what could possibly go wrong?
Hoffman begins by interviewing two of Webb’s previous subjects: formerly estranged sisters. Webb subjected them to shared nightmares, which they insist have brought them together again. Hoffman finds this unconvincing — many quack treatments have been embraced by enthusiastically deluded fans — so only one course of action is acceptable: Hoffman will have to enter one of Webb’s dream-inducing pods to experience the induced virtual reality for herself.
Neither Hoffman nor Webb has any inkling that Webb’s facility has been targeted by an industrial spy. The spy’s two main objectives are to acquire Webb’s research for their masters and to ensure that Webb herself is not in a position to develop her technology any further. Unfortunately for Webb and her colleagues, the most straightforward method is to simply eliminate Webb, her staff, and anyone unfortunate enough to be onsite when the killer strikes.
Anyone as unfortunate as the journalist who is helpless and asleep inside one Webb’s VR pods, vulnerable to whatever lethal scenario the killer cares to program.
I am a bit skeptical you can kill someone with sufficiently scary dreams, but will admit that I would have a hard time proving this hunch … at least until immersive VR becomes widespread and more data is available. It is possible the commercially available equipment would be better tested and equipped with fail-safes. In which case any data therefrom would not apply to experimental equipment that is being deliberately sabotaged.
Webb has some inkling that there would be several uses for VR (she expected to be beaten to full immersive VR by the porn industry) but her narrow focus on therapy blinds her to the possible abuses of the new tech (such as brainwashing and torture). Imagination fail.
The narrative dragged in the beginning, but once Webb and Hoffman find themselves trapped in a reality shaped by a monster, I found myself hooked. The book is a creepily claustrophobic thriller that will be just the thing for those who like that sort of thing.
Please direct corrections to jdnicoll at panix dot com