Chandra K. Clarke’s 2020 Echoes of Another: A Novel of the Near Future is, as the subtitle suggests, a near-future novel.
Ambitious researcher Kel has turned off-the-shelf technology into a useful experimental device that records brain states. More importantly, it can induce those states, once recorded. The ever-so-focused Kel does not consider any uses for her invention aside from the very specific one she had in mind when she created it.
Others will be more creative.
Climate change, the global demographic transition, and social reform have transformed 21st century Toronto for the better. Yet there are still social pariahs — such as those living in the J‑District (near Jane and Finch streets), some of whom are criminals. Late 21st century gangsters have tried to appear more genteel, but violence is still a tool in their arsenal.
Ray learns this firsthand when he narrowly survives a friend’s drone-bomb assassination. Ray doesn’t expect the Toronto police to solve his friend’s murder; he sets out to solve it himself. When a chance to join Dominic’s gang presents itself, he seizes it. The odds that Dominic is the culprit are low, but working for Dominic may give Ray a clue as to the perp.
Dominic gives Ray a job using Kel’s device to terrorize rivals and victims. Some poor victim has been tortured and the torture recorded. Ray is to use the record, and the device, to force yet another victim to experience the torture (sans any physical damage; the mental damage is real). It’s nasty work, but Ray feels he must do it if he is stay in Dominic’s gang and possibly solve his friend’s murder.
Kel’s device falls into other hands. Each new owner — Seth the author, Haroon the would-be cop — finds a use for this exciting new technology….
This novel doesn’t fit neatly into a near-future cyberpunk box. There are criminals and there are corporate shenanigans but the two don’t intersect. There’s still an underclass, but the main underclass character (Haroon) wants out of J‑District and into a respectable middle-class niche. It’s a very … Canadian … approach to cyberpunk. In fact, the fact that middle-class respectability is presented as a reasonable aspiration argues that the book isn’t punk at all.
As the synopsis suggests, there are several main characters, each with their own plot thread. The novel takes a while to braid them together. That didn’t quite work for me. I could have done with one less main character (possibly either Ray or Haroon). The plots meander along and some of them are resolved by chance alone1.
Still it was a nice change to read a book set in a reasonably pleasant place where society still works, on the whole. No fashionable dystopia here. Moreover, despite the plot problems mentioned above, the novel did hold my interest as Kel’s invention rippled out across Toronto.
1: Granted, Ray’s plan was to join a gang and get lucky, so it feels a little unfair to say that the author was cheating when Ray’s cunning plan worked out exactly as hoped.