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Circuit of Heaven
Dennis Danvers
Avon EOS Books, 378 pages

Circuit of Heaven
Dennis Danvers
Dennis Danvers is the author of two other novels Wilderness and Time and Time Again. He has taught creative writing and literature at University of Texas at Arlington, North Texas State University, Virginia Intermont College, and Virginia Commonwealth University. His novel, Wilderness, has recently been adapted as a three part series for British television. He lives in Richmond, Virginia.

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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Duane Swierczynski

Many have called this novel a "Romeo and Juliet" in cyberspace. Sure -- if the Montagues were fanatic religious Fundamentalists living in a apocalyptic, Phildickian Earth, and the Capulets were souls uploaded into a massive utopian supercomputer.

True enough, at its synthetic heart, Circuit of Heaven is a story about star-crossed lovers -- in a manner of speaking. In the late 21st century, nearly everybody (12 billion!) has opted to shuck off their bodies and hop into "The Bin," a vast silicon network housed where the Pentagon used to be. For the soul inside, it is virtual nirvana -- pretty much the kind of world John Lennon was talking about in "Imagine." There is nothing to kill or die for, no greed or hunger, and no Jerry Springer, too.

But our hero, Nemo (wink, wink, rhymes with "Romeo"), isn't having any of it. He's boycotting the Bin, and refusing to join his parents -- who left him a decade ago to cash in two early tickets to paradise, leaving Nemo out in the barren wasteland that is Earth. (At first, you had to be 18 or older to hop into the Bin. The ban on minors was lifted, but a very angry Nemo decided to stay out. For good. Consider him a rebel without an upload.) So, Nemo grew up on the outside with his "Construct" named Lawrence -- basically, a robot nanny who has three distinct (and formerly real) human personalities melded into its brain -- and other folks who wished to keep their physical bodies. Among them, the aforementioned Fundamentalists who believe the Bin is the cyber-road to Hell.

On his 21st birthday, however, Nemo takes his customary trip to see his parents in the Bin. (You see, people with real bodies are allowed a short visit, but you can't stay -- otherwise you risk psychosis, death, a month of bad hair days, etc.) After a joyless birthday dinner, Nemo meets a new arrival: Justine (as in "Juliet"), a mysterious and sensuous pop singer. Nemo falls virtual head over virtual heels, but the clock strikes midnight, and he has to return to his body, back in the real world.

Figures. Boy meets the girl of his dreams, and she's no more real than Ms. Pac-Man. To be with her, Nemo would have to do exactly what he swore he'd never do... cash in his physical body, and join the 12 million other souls in the Bin. (And you thought Catholic-Jewish couples had it tough.) As Nemo grapples with his decision, Justine tries sort through confusing memories to figure out who she was before she uploaded herself. Add a holy terrorist plot to destroy the Bin, weird power struggles, shadowy God-like figures and you've got -- like "Romeo and Juliet" -- a story that transcends the tale of two young lovers to question the society, life, and reality itself.

Sure, we've seen the soul-on-a-chip premise before (Tron, Greg Egan's Permutation City), and God knows "impossible love" ain't exactly the freshest of concepts. But Danvers succeeds by masterfully combining these two disparate sensibilities into a thought-provoking, suspenseful read. In the hands of another writer, it could have been disaster. (Imagine Danielle Steel tackling William Gibson turf. Or -- gulp -- vice versa.) I'm no fan of romance novels, but I was surprised to find myself feeling... (sniff, sniff, fighting back the tears)... let's just say I was really rooting for Nemo and Justine to get together, okay?

And at the same time, Circuit of Heaven is full of evocative scene-setting and wild invention (the whole "Construct" thing was a mind-blower... literally). The Bin feels as real to the reader as it must feel to its residents. There's an undercurrent of real terror here, too... especially when you drop the book for a second and start considering the possibilities of giving up your physical existence for life in a gussied-up Pentium. (Basically, a machine invented by the same kind of people who gave us the Y2K Bug and "Super Mario Brothers.") AOL chat rooms are nice to visit, but would I want to live there? What happens if someone, like, trips over the plug?

According to author bio, Danvers is working on a "sort of" sequel to Circuit of Heaven. I can't wait. After all, even the Bard couldn't pull that one off.

Copyright © 1999 Duane Swierczynski

Duane Swierczynski recently escaped New York and is now a pen-for-hire living in the small town of Forty Fort, Pennsylvania. His long-awaited novel, SECRET DEAD MEN, might actually appear early in the next century... depending on how this whole Y2K thing shakes out. In the meanwhile, you can find his work in such varied publications as Details, Men's Health, and Sparks! The Trade Magazine of the National Static Cling Research Foundation. In college, he loved Shakespeare's "Henry IV" so much that he spent months looking for parts I, II, and III.

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