Verdict: PSYBOT is an experimental sci-fi novel that really wears the “experimental” part quite proudly. Its experiments might sometimes come off as more confusing than they are innovative, and the prose might carry a heavy either-you-like-it-or-you-don't tag, but such are the risks of pioneers.
In the near future, Joe Norton works at a tech company that’s preparing for a merger. His girlfriend just broke up with him for sleeping with her sister, but his troubles have really just begun. Through a series of weird fantasies and visions, it at first seems that the narrator’s virtual reality gear is on the fritz, or his grip on reality is loose at best. But later on it becomes apparent that these visions are all something more sinister. It seems he is the victim of a disturbing new experiment: a computer virus designed to infect a human brain.
Author Nowick Gray’s PSYBOT is a pretty loopy cyberpunk noir, and the narrative is a stream-of-consciousness crazy train that just seems to want to lose the reader at every stop. One minute, for instance, the narrator is at a football game, and the next, he’s on a space station. This is a novel designed to question many things, among them free will and the very nature of reality itself in this hypothetical post-digital age. Translation: this is not light reading.
But the prose style, while certainly quite confusing at times, is also kind of beautiful. A few examples: “Do unseen overseers monitor all, on the electroencephologram of the cosmic brain? Monitor once more is porthole, keyboard but a console component. I scan the heavens and work the controls. Martinson, Harrison; Scanlon, Hart… Who are these overseers, and who the objects of scrutiny? Who are the thieves and where are the souls they have stolen?” “Is my path unwinding to a suspect destiny from some spideristic or superviral central control and command center? Or is it ratcheting up toward the reigning fisher-king who hauls me in for my day of judgment?” It’s the sort of writing that’s hard to gauge on any merits other than its own: it is, for better or worse, somewhat unique.
While PSYBOT can be lauded for its blurring of genre and literary fiction, fans of the former should be warned: this is not really a thriller, at least in the classical sense. The big revelation of the brain-computer-virus, which as it is happens relatively gradually and late in the narrative, does not produce any Jason Bourne-style action. This is not really that kind of book: instead, after the big reveal, much of the rest of the narrative is space for pondering the aforementioned implications to reality and free will, a little like Solaris, if one were looking for a precedent in science fiction.
PSYBOT is an experimental sci-fi novel that really wears the “experimental” part quite proudly. Its experiments might sometimes come off as more confusing than they are innovative, and the prose might carry a heavy either-you-like-it-or-you-don’t tag, but such are the risks of pioneers.
Reviewed by Charles Baker for IndieReader