Michael R. Fletcher remains one of the most underrated authors of fantasy today and I am continually impressed by his amazing achievements in terms of making stories which are both rich, well-characterized, and pardon my French but fucked up. He is one of the voices of independent grimdark and we are all the better for his work. Interestingly, my favorite of his works isn't dark fantasy but something much more modern in the stylized hyper-violent GHOSTS OF TOMORROW. It is a cyberpunk shoot-em-up crime thriller with a samurai cowboy cyborg, a sentient tank, and an autistic girl goddess A.I.
The books premise is the future is now dependent on Scans. Scans are a process where a human being's consciousness is copied from their organic brains but, in the process, said brain is destroyed. Rather than result in countless humans wanting immortality, though it appeals to some, it's created a trade in copied humans necessary to keep the hyper-technological future running. Scans are used for assassin-robots, running massive businesses, and more with there never being enough Scans to go around. The solution is at once both believable and horrific with cartels forming to supply the need with children bought or stolen from their parents.
This is mostly a metaphor for human trafficking in the real world with the demand having created a monstrous need which plenty of people will do their best to fulfill as long as its profitable. The fact our villains are the scum of the Earth doesn't keep them from being humanized. Their evil is a function of their being human rather than a divergence from it. The boss of the cartels, for instance, treats his Scan child-soldiers with warmth as well as affection despite the fact they're all people he's murdered as well as would send to their deaths again.
The heroes are also, in proper grimdark fashion, just this side of psychotic themselves as they can't see the horrors they've witnessed without being affected themselves. Griffin, the protagonist, loses a bit of his soul when his attempt to make a bust "properly" gets a bunch of children executed so their kidnappers can get away clean. He then becomes the kind of cowboy cop which exists in movies willing to do whatever it takes from torture or murder to stop the cartels--and really, who can blame him. His companion, Nadia, a reporter finds herself also affected as it's clear the horror she wants to expose is at the base of the society she lives in.
I'm actually really fond of the child-characters in this book as well, which I never thought I would say about any of them in fiction. 88 is a girl who desperately wants to find her mother but may not even have ever had one. Archaeidae is a cyborg assassin who only a person who was raised by ultra-violent video games could take seriously--except for the fact he really is a man with a body count in three to four figures that is all but unstoppable yet possesses a child's ethics. The most fascinating character for me, though is Abdul who is a soldier who had the chance to "survive" by being scanned and now copes with phantom everything syndrome.
It's a violent book but the violence is stylized and overthetop so you get the sense of both how dangerous this new world has become while enjoying it from a reader's persective. It also gives a sense of just how ruthless every party is becoming in order to combat each other. While it's not a metaphor for anything, the story has applicability for discussing things like the War on Drugs as well as War on Terror. It also can simply be appreciated as a science fiction story.
This book reads like a big budget sci-fi action movie and is one of the most entertaining reads I've had in 2017. The fact some of the elements which I loved about it turned up in Metal Gear: Revengeance just goes to show you that geniuses think alike. I actually hope Michael R. Fletcher does a sequel to this novel but I can't really see how he'd improve on an already self-contained masterpiece. It has the same psychedelic crazy appeal of Snow Crash or Neuromancer.