“Your persona is only a mask…Ultimately it’s not important. You—your being, your self—are right here, in this compass of your skull and body”
Eucrasia Walsh gets implanted with a new persona called Rebel and, fearing death, flees; carrying a valuable IP owned by the corporation with her: her identity. Burned into her brain rather than transient like most personas seem to be, Rebel becomes a highly sought-after commodity and this corporation, as well as their competitors, rapidly mobilize to get her back. Escaping into an underworld filled with people she’s not sure she can trust by way of a previous persona’s contact: Wyeth, a man who harbors loyalty to the body she’s hijacked, rather than to her, she must take the risk and join his cause and flee into the far reaches of space; or else take her chances alone against these corporations.
Part space-opera, part cyberpunk. It’s chock-full of strange things you wouldn’t usually expect in a cyberpunk story but pair nicely with it, in most cases. Their escape showcases different governments and their failings. Something ubiquitous throughout planets and space is the use of personas, though. Either as entertainment or work life, even ideological reasons sometimes—this tech is rampant. Even the strangeness that Earth becomes, pejoratively called The Comprise, parallels this loss of agency personas inject into the fiction. All of these people share one mind and function as one nebulous entity: Earth. The exploration of which is one of the most interesting and compelling parts of the story.
“Thought moves in vast waves, like pressure fronts, across continents. Sometimes two conflicting thoughts arise on opposite sides of the planet. The Thought fronts race outward, and where they collide, there is conflict. It is like a mental storm.”
Just as vacuum flowers flourish everywhere in space, consuming trash and reproducing—so too does humanity seem to fill the nooks and crannies all over. Mars has a society of Citizens, all stripped of their individuality to maximize their potential. Not just of workers but everything. Reading, polyamorous relationships, work, socializing. Each society is organized differently and examines different aspects of humanity, including the “comfort” of purpose.
Anti-authoritarian societies function in communal spaces, but in a world where only those people belonging to a corporation can hold massive sums of money, the wealth gap has increased beyond imagining and ordinary citizens can no longer incorporate at all. It’s all or nothing, mostly nothing. And so people trade whatever they have. But they far from flourish without organization. Police plague their numbers, performing raids in which they nab offenders, give them a sentence for a couple hours where they then re-write their personas as officers who repeat this snatching process. There is no real sense of progress and wonder anywhere Rebel goes.
“Everybody wanted something from her…Deutsche Nakasone wanted her persona, Jerzy Heisen wanted her death. Snow and the rest of her network wanted to record her persona as well. And Wyeth wanted to use her as bait to snare and destroy Snow’s network.”
And with the distance, she traverses she finds herself more even as she dissolves. Her base persona, Eucrasia, continues to gain ground. The mind eventually pushing out the foreign invasion that is Rebel, that’s what is known about personas. And when she sleeps, she dreams of Eucrasia, who is slowly gaining more of a foothold.
In the meantime, with borrowed time, Rebel is a beautiful complexity that drove most of my engagement with the story. It is very compelling, this journey of self-discovery that will ultimately destroy her. A literalization made painful to the reader as her interactions with everyone showcase the richness of Rebel’s personality. This is contrasted with the life of Eucrasia as Rebel begins to remember her, and they bleed together as Rebel’s dissolving progresses.
“Sometimes I think all those memories are going to rise up and down me.”
There is passion and love and death. Wetware, even chemical wetware ahead of most thoughts on biopunk at its publication in ‘87; romantic notions like crafts with solar sails skimming along space; the extrapolation of technologies and the question of agency posed by them in many ways, most of all the personas underscoring consent; and the story of Rebel who refuses to comprise her agency binding it all together. Space-opera and cyberpunk, perhaps unsurprisingly, is a entertaining concept.
“The light of that bright instant when the water writhed in the air like a diamond dragon still blinded her to her purposes, but that didn’t matter. She knew something far more important. She was still Rebel.”