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Everyone In Silico
Jim Munroe
Four Walls Eight Windows, 241 pages

Everyone In Silico
Jim Munroe
Jim Munroe was born in 1973. He has his roots in the 'zine and anarchist punk scenes. He was the managing editor for the award-winning Adbusters Magazine, and has lived in South Korea and Vancouver. Currently, he lives in Toronto's Kensington Market. He has finished his next novel, Angry Young Spaceman, about a guy who goes to another planet to teach English. He turned down an offer to go with HarperCollins Canada and it will be published by NoMediaKings.

Jim Munroe Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Flyboy Action Figure Comes With Gasmask
Four Walls Eight Windows

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Martin Lewis

Vancouver in 2036 is starting to empty as more and more people take up an offer to upload their personalities into Frisco, a virtual reality simulation of San Francisco. This is, seemingly, the ultimate way to avoid the strife of the modern world; there is zero crime, no hunger, sleep or need to commute. However Frisco is actually an ambiguous dystopia; Jim Munroe shows its seductive appeal but at the same time why it is an empty promise, like the very corporate culture that has created it.

Everyone In Silico follows the lives of three seemingly disparate characters who are united by an uneasy feeling that this glorious future isn't all its cracked up to be.

Nicky is pursuing the abandoned science of genetics. Using equipment, borrowed when her university closed its biology department, she is engineering mythical creatures such as miniature cerebuses and cylopses. As she has more success with her creations she is drawn in to an artist sub-culture that leads her to meet some very interesting people.

Doug is an ageing cool-hunter whose job is to track and analyse trends in popular culture. Assailed by money problems and young turks, he is plagued by an even bigger worry, that there is something morally bankrupt about his employment:

"[He] looked at the hipster teen, wondered if he knew how corrosive he was, wondered if he was corroded down to a core of cynicism himself."
Eileen is a retired corporate raider, in the literal sense. In her salad days, she was a commando protecting company investments in the third world. Her "grandson" Jeremy (in fact, a clone) has gone missing so she pulls her power armour out of the closet and goes looking for him. In doing so, she is also forced to rethink her views on her previous employment.

Much of their power comes from the fact that they are not polemical but rather ordinary people who feel there is something fundamentally wrong with the world they live in. A fourth viewpoint is provided by Paul, a literal deus ex machina, fighting Frisco from the inside and it is he who marshals the other three together.

Paul is very much Munroe's voice in the novel. It is through him we hear Munroe espousing his manifesto:

"I have this theory that diversity is an incredibly important thing... The less diversity we have the fewer choices we have -- the fewer methods we have to find happiness, justice, love... Corporations have a vested interest in reducing diversity, since they function most profitably when they can mass produce their product, cultural or otherwise."
In this, Everything In Silico makes explicit that one of the things that separates post-cyberpunk from cyberpunk is a social conscience. Likewise his protagonists span the spectrums of age and class-making for a more well-rounded picture of its future society, in contrast to cyberpunk's Angry Young Men.

It is always risky identifying influences but Everything In Silico bares the echoes of those two great mappers of the zeitgeist -- past, present and future -- Bruce Sterling and Douglas Coupland. Like those writers, Munroe is fascinated by emergent counterculture, by tribes, cliques and clades. In terms of prose style he is closest to Sterling circa Holy Fire, though this is shot through with sharper, more off-beat Couplandesque sentences. For the most part though Munroe eschews Coupland's onslaught of quips apart from the occasional one-liner, such as when Nicky's father informs her of his infidelity:

"Sometimes mergers are exclusive deals. And sometimes they aren't. But it doesn't mean the original merger isn't profitable."
In general however, Munroe tries to avoid this sort of cynicism. He crafts a surprisingly warm novel, where we can care for all the protagonists and the issues raised are universally relevant. It is also an extremely technically proficient novel. As well as benefiting from a clever structure, Everything In Silico is an almost textbook example of show-don't-tell world building. Through a wealth of detail, Munroe shows us the endpoint of corporate capitalism, where everything is branded and for sale. This is illustrated in an early scene when a kid comes up to Doug in McDonald's to pimp Marlboro Gold's to him, his watch awarding credit. Finishing his lunch, Doug returns to his office and shows a recording of the kid's pitch as part of his meeting on branding. Throughout this critique however, he never preaches; the political points he makes never intrude on the reader but are allowed to shine through and are all the more persuasive for it.

Copyright © 2002 Martin Lewis

Martin Lewis lives in South London; he is originally from Bradford, UK. He writes book reviews for The Telegraph And Argus.

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