M.M. Buckner,
(Ace, 2004)

It's 2249 and the world is over-populated, dangerously polluted and dominated by huge companies more powerful than governments -- a cliched but satisfying extrapolation of current trends for the more eco-minded and pessimistic among us. Good science fiction often has something interesting to say about how people might overcome or adapt to the outcomes of undesirable trends. Alas, Neurolink doesn't and is further undermined by an implausible plot and unrealistic characters.

The story begins with a potentially interesting conflict between father and son. Dominic Jedes battles with his father over their response to an unexpected rebellion aboard a mining ship they've recently released from its employment contract. The ship has begun to broadcast messages inviting other employees to leave their jobs and join the ship's crew. As people begin to do exactly that, the stock of the Jedes' bank plummets and world markets are destabilized by worried investors.

Nevermind that the now unfunded ship is somewhere in the Arctic Ocean and barely able to support its original crew. Nor that it's unlikely one ship's broadcasts would have the effect described. Dominic quickly agrees to a ridiculous undercover assignment without knowing exactly where the ship is, who is in command or the background of his only contact, a person offered up as guide by the most powerful enemies of his bank. No worries. She is an attractive and ever-resourceful young lady, and not of course, exactly what she seems. And he does, of course, eventually fall in love. Most of the first 200 or so pages describe his arrival with her at the ship and a blind, bumbling search for broadcast equipment on board and in the mines below.

It's an agonizing quest for both Dominic and the reader. Along the way, under life-and-death time pressure, our capitalist tool manages to get drunk and pass out on beer and later to get high on marijuana. It's not clear how this furthers his cause, but it is part of the author's plan to show a hard-headed businessman having a change-of-heart as he gains first-hand experience of the suffering of the oppressed underclass.

Dominic and his lady spy are likeable characters and things do get better when the scene shifts from the rebellious ship back to Dominic's bank, but a touch of action and a few surprising, arbitrary plot twists are too little too late. Those 200 pages of wandering through grubby, unrealistic settings and workers have taken their toll. Only dedicated readers (or reviewers) will have made it to the end.

M.M. Buckner, my view of her second book aside, writes well enough to try again. Her first novel, Hyperthought, set in the same future world, garnered favorable comments and apparently sold well enough to justify a follow-up. But I'm hoping for a more plausible story with more believable people next time out.

- Rambles
written by Ron Bierman
published 2 July 2005

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