Review of End Man by Alex Austin

The first thing I appreciated about End Man was the Vaporware/ Outrun aesthetic of its cover, followed by its intriguing premise.

Wherever corporate corruption is brought upon the chopping block I am game for a foray into speculation. Then you get oodles of commentary on mortality and how the virtual world contains online remnants of the dead. Elements of this book are not fiction, but our true reality. It got me thinking about the records we leave when we die, online, in print, etc. And how that is all that is left of us. In this fictitious world, that concept gets taken to the extreme.

The slick prose style keeps the action pulse-racing throughout and the realistic futuristic setting is beset with crucial and relevant subtexts without compromising the plot. What value does a human life have after death? How much of our identity can be stored? Corporations have been quantifying human worth since their inception, and their practices are no different in the author’s world.

Blanks are people without online personas, which, one might argue, makes them harder to control. But what do we give up when we go off-grid? These ideas are morbid and upsetting to me because I seem them playing out in reality. It is no shock to come across them in fiction. The author certainly utilizes them in a thought-provoking way, incorporating tons of world-building details onto every page, and rarely slowing down to dwell in quiet moments. There are plenty of character quirks that solidify over time into memorable personalities both flawed and relatable. Solid dialogue chops play out against the heavy undertones.

Sleuthing fans will be right at home in the investigative environment of the book. Among its many considerations, it will have you pondering the ripple effects of contemporaneous tragedies like mass shootings and humanity’s potentially bleak future in a world rife with evolving cybercrimes and terrorists more creative and elusive and effective than law enforcement. Online activity monitoring and personal surveillance is not only disturbing but dehumanizing. Cryptocurrencies are also irritating, prevalent, and suspicious. All the same, the up to date engagement with social concerns is right up front here. By implementing razor’s edge technological innovations the author is able to depict a riveting interplay of conflicts. Many of us will recognize the signs of corporate grind, burn out, ennui, addiction to social media, and dependence on tech and gadgets to run our lives for us. Add to this discussion of quantum computing, debt culture, and the typical people gaming the system leaves the playing field ripe for scandals. Reading about scary futures close enough to our present can disturb but also awaken us to the realities before our eyes. Still, the book is entertaining and intellectually stimulating. I have always considered the Internet to be a rabbit hole, but it can become a black hole — one that consumes and proliferates until its virtual landscape seems more vast and alluring than our physical world. How is it that our sophisticated civilization can be as deadly as the Viking-era villages, where survival is no guarantee, or even a likelihood, due to our destructive impulses?

Recommended for a cyber-aware audience.

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