Shattered Minds by Laura lam

Publisher - Macmillan

Published - Out Now

Price - £12.99 Hardback

Ex-neuroscientist Carina struggles with a drug problem, her conscience, and urges to kill. Shae satisfies her cravings in dreams, fuelled by the addictive drug 'Zeal'. Now she's heading for self-destruction - until she has a vision of a dead girl.

Sudice Inc. damaged Carina when she worked on their sinister brain-mapping project , causing her violent compulsions. And this girl was a similar experiment. When carina realises the vision was planted by her old colleague mark, desperate for help to expose the company, she knows he's probably dead. Her only hope is to unmask her nemesis - or she's next.

To unlock the secrets Mark hid in her mind, she'll need a group of specialist hackers. Dax is one of them, a doctor who can help carina fight her addictions if she holds on to her humanity, they might even have a future together. But first she must destroy her adversary - before it changes us and our society, forever.

Welcome to Pacifica. A nearish future world sites near San Francisco and LA. With the use of flesh parlours every one can look a movie star, everyone can obtain information by implants, the rich live in floating mansions and all seems right in the world. But in this gripping cyber-thriller from Laura Lam there is a darker side to the town that threatens to take it over very soon. While this is the second book lam has set in Pacifica there is no direct connection between the books and can be read separately.  I do how ever think like the first that this a book well worth investigating.

A key draw to the book is the fascinating character of Carina about whom the plot swirls. Carina is very hard to sympathise with initially. We meet her as a 'Zealot' a drug addict who uses a substance called zeal and all her money to buy time in VR joints across the city. There she can spend hours inside her own head living out violent fantasies...which she enjoys. Outside of the VR she is falling apart physically and mentally and barely containing her urge to commit violence. She's hardly the character you want to sit next to you on the bus.  You would not suspect a few months earlier she was known to be an excellent neuroscientist pushing the boundaries of brain science (although you may want to look more closely as to how much she 'enjoys' some of her work).

But the novel is not a tale of beating drug addiction. carina is unwillingly plunged into a mystery thanks to a former colleague that means she draws the attention of the Trust.  A team of cyber-hackers investigating Carina's old employer. Carina has been given both memories and information now hidden in her own implants that could explain what Sudice Inc. and in particular her old mentor Roz have been doing in the shadows. A great feature of the book is that we bounce between Carina's present and her past. We see a web of events that explains both her emotional distance and her desire for violence. Making an unlikeable character sympathetic is harder to do than some writers think (looking at you Grimdark!) you may not like Carina a lot of the time but you certainly understand her motivations.

A nice counter-point to this is Roz. A mirror image of Carina a slightly older but equally amoral scientist who sees their work and perhaps Carina as her finest achievements to date and nothing stands in her way. It's a tense game of cat and mouse being played through Roz's corporate army and Carina's not so trusting allies in The Trust. When your enemy has the resources of a major corporation, with major contacts in all parts of government and law enforcement oh and the ability to infiltrate implants it's not easy to hide or even trust anyone. Lam does excellent action and chase scenes that come across very cinematic; indeed the whole novel is extremely visual with use of flashbacks and memories as well as VR - a fascinating picture of the future is developed and she is bringing life to cyberpunk! A genre that I used to think was dead and buried!

My one niggle with the book was while Roz is a great and captivating villain there often seemed to be an inevitability that the Trust would escape various Sudice's clutches. This does become rectified in the final third when you realise exactly how powerful Sudice wants to be but it didn't immediately give that sense of jeopardy you might expect.

Overall I thought this was one of the best SF thrillers I've read in 2017 so far. It feels plausible and in Carina we have both a story and a character you find very hard not wanting to know both more about and what she will do next.  I very much hope we get more tales of Pacifica as I think this is abreath of fresh air in SF.