One day soon, we may develop technology that integrates with biological systems, that becomes so much a part of you that it isn’t clear where you end and the science begins. This potential paradigm shift lies near the center of two new science fiction thrillers. Both books start with integrated tech as a given, pulling readers through adventures as existentially stressful as they are fascinating.
In Emma Newman’s Before Mars, a standalone novel set in her Planetfall universe, geologist and artist Anna Kubrick finds a disturbing note in her room when she arrives at a Martian base. The note is in her handwriting, and warns her not to trust the base’s psychologist. More anomalies become apparent as she examines the world around her: she is missing canvases and sketchbooks, her messages home to her family aren’t answered in a way that makes sense and the base’s doctor feels too familiar to be a man she has just met. At risk of developing psychosis from prolonged exposure to immersive memory technology, and probably suffering from postpartum depression following the birth of her daughter, Anna struggles to settle in. Are her suspicions about the psychologist, the base’s AI and the motives of the corporation that sent her to Mars justified, or are they just an outgrowth of her own supposed paranoia?
Newman gives us a look at the near future that is both grim and thoughtful. AI implants within characters’ minds blur the line between what is real and what is imagined, to the point that entire psychoses are associated with not being able to tell brain-generated holograms from reality. Corporations have taken control of not just world governments, but entire planets. But even with all these changes, people, at their core, don’t change. They still suffer from depression and have bad relationships. They are paranoid and jealous. This contrast—the fantastical artificial intelligence and brain-bending technology against the mundane flaws of humanity—is what makes Before Mars brilliant. Newman’s latest novel is well worth the read for anyone who loves a twisty thriller, or who is interested in how our future as a species could unfold.
While Newman’s novel is a psychological playground of paranoia and suspicion, Emily Devenport’s Medusa Uploaded, the first in her Medusa Cycle, is half revenge thriller, half spy novel. Oichi Angelis is a servant—called a worm—on a generation ship hurtling through space. Shortly before her parents die in the destruction of their ship, they give her an implant ostensibly meant to give her access to the great music of human history. But as Oichi learns shortly before their deaths, the implant is more than it seems. It gives her not just access to music, but also to the ship’s communications systems and to a Medusa unit, a biotech fusion suit with its own AI, that can be only be paired people who have the implant. When the ship’s Executives suspect Oichi of being an insurgent, she fakes her death and joins her Medusa in a quest for revenge and the truth about what happened to her parents’ ship.
Medusa Uploaded is pure adrenaline, hurtling from intrigue to murder to impersonation. All the while, it challenges readers to think not just about the place of technology alongside—and even within—the human race, but also about what that means for human evolution. And despite its deliciously dark undertones (the first chapter, for example, asks readers to consider what sort of killer our main character is—serial? Mass murderer?), it is a book that is unshakably hopeful, for all its mayhem and scheming. Oichi and Medusa's partnership has the potential to fix the injustices of their world, which makes them a team worth rooting for. Albeit one with a very high body count.