Thursday, March 09, 2006

Opinion - Cybernetica by Michael J. Cavallaro

"Two conmen hired in a major investigation. A famous actress marked for corporate assassination. One biologically enhanced bodyguard wrangled by a moral dilemma. In a future where neurological actions, and events, are influenced by a widespread brain-to-computer interface system called sublimation, the convergence of these four paths will lead to a reckoning between factions vying for global power.

Thirty-five years after the devastating Encryption Wars, the rise of sublimation from the city of Cybernetica has left a criminal subculture brewing—those who fall outside its technological parameters of control. Now, following the first successful cyber attack in its history, a group of insurgents called the drifters are aiming to destroy and recreate the very civilization it supports. In a world of covert wars, corporate dealings, and government corruptions, there are those who not only hold the fate of the future...but the secrets of the past."

With Cybernetica, Michael J. Cavallaro has crafted a complex, multifaceted cyberpunk tale set against a back drop of high-tech future terrorism, computer networked mind control, and corporate social manipulation. The novel takes place in the far future where a cybernetic implant links the citizens of Cybernetica to a vast computer network that regulates their lives. When terrorists find a way to hack the network and make a group of people to commit suicide, it becomes a race against time to find prevent an even more devastating assault on the system.

At least, that’s how the novel starts.

From there, Cavallaro keeps the revelations coming fast and furious, with enough intrigue and plot twists to keep even veteran cyberpunk fans turning the pages. Readers familiar with the genre’s staples will find a fresh spin of other works such as Snow Crash, Blade Runner and the Matrix. You have your hero with a past, your shadowy authority/bureaucracy that tries to use our hero, and the gradual discovery that nothing is what it seems. As familiar as these staples have become over the past 25 years, Cavallaro still manages to find enough vitality in them to make for an interesting story.

Like the best cyberpunk, Cybernetica presents us with a vision of the future where technology has redefined what makes us human but has not necessarily improved the human condition itself. Similar in theme (while certainly not in approach, however) to some of the work of Phillip K. Dick, Cybernetica also questions how we establish our identity and how our perceptions of reality can be distorted by our own participation in a world not in our control. In this case, characters are confronted with knowledge that their very identity may be nothing more than a convenient tool of power players higher in the socio-economic food chain.

The most fascinating aspects of the story, to me at least, are those questions Cavallaro raises about privacy and freedom in a technological age. In Cavallaro’s postulated future, access to information is the chief commodity. Encryption technology and data hacking become the weapons of choice in this world. Interestingly, Cavallaro eschews the terrain of cyberspace and virtuality in the narrative – you won’t find Gibson’s cyberspace or any of Stephenson’s avatars in these pages. Rather, Cavallaro tackles his subject by addressing the more tangible, physical manifestations of this future paradigm.

Everyday, we sacrifice our privacy for the convenience of shopping on-line or sending email, trusting that our identities are safe in the hands of corporations – corporations that then turn around and use our shopping habits and key words from our transmitted data to shape their marketing strategies. In short, we already live in a world where our behavior is being modified by our complacency. Next year’s top selling product may be the result of your personal Google searches. But is that wrong? If we are willing to give up our privacy in order to have a product that we enjoy, is that necessarily a bad thing? What intrigued me was how Cavallaro takes these relevant issues of freedom/privacy versus security/comfort and pushes them as far to the extreme as you can imagine in order to highlight the possible ramifications of our choices, giving us people who are willing to forego any privacy whatsoever, even in their own minds, for the benefits of being part of a closed, regulated and presumably superior society. It makes for very thought provoking entertainment.


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