What is Ego Trip?
Paul Anderson Fou’s life is about to change. This rather boring fast-food worker has been offered a chance of a lifetime. Dynamo, a mysterious girl–the only one who’s ever willingly talked to him–has gifted him the key to his dreams of MMO stardom, a chance to dig himself out of his successful brother’s basement, to make something of himself.
But, as bodies start piling up all over Neo Rackham, attracting the attention of a relentless detective with a cybernetic eye, Paul’s life is certain to become far more complicated than he ever dreamed.
The price for fame is high.
And some deals are too good to be true.
Paul is about to find that out the hard way.
There’s a current issue with cyberpunk that is difficult to solve, specifically that not much cyberpunk is actually punk. It’s an issue that has been occurring for awhile now but the anti-authoritarian, edgy, brutal, and meaningful writing of the setting has been replaced with an aesthetic. People know the neon vistas of endless skyscrapers, the chrome body parts, and the ultraviolence but they don’t really have anything to say.
Yes, megacorps bad but what is a megacorp? Is it something that people even give any thought to as a manifestation of our own reaction to late stage-capitalism. Probably not. The revolution has been bought, packaged, and sold back to us with even Lana Wachowski saying as much in the Matrix Resurrections.
I could continue this rant for some time as the resident Redneck_Cyberpunk that was my user name for a long time. I review indie cyberpunk novels by the truck load in hopes of finding some literary work of merit containing the spark of the old rebel as well as edge. Altered Carbon was the most famous work in recent memory that, at least in the first book, felt genuinely angry about the situation and you could taste the asphalt regarding. However, much like Cthulhu is slippers, it seemed cyberpunk was now something you could children’s books like You Can Be a Cyborg When You’re Older (Richard Roberts) or police officers as the primary protagonists without irony (too many examples to list).
Ego Trip is a breath of vile smoke-stained air in the face. Or, to quote Billy Idol’s controversial Cyberpunk album opening track, “Like a shock to the system. I feel good, well alright.” It is a cyberpunk novel from the indie scene and has actual edge to it. It’s nasty, vicious, and minimalist in such a way as to properly convey the utter awfulness of the setting but how dehumanizing it is to the protagonists that have allowed themselves to be eaten by it.
Best of all, it’s a product of the modern era and updates the social satire as well as characterization to the modern internet culture without losing any of the bleeding edge futurism. If you feel like I’m over-hyping the book, maybe, it has some flaws and won’t be for everyone but it’s what I wanted and feels like it was written by a legitimate punk mentality.
The premise is simple, Paul Anderson Fou is a burger flipper in the dystopian future where Neo Rackham has effectively bought law enforcement as well as the prison system. Prison labor is what the economy depends on and you’re lobotomized, cyberized, and put to work for whatever fractions make you a drain on society or Neo Rackham’s needs. When he’s offered a chance by a beautiful girl to become a professional gamer for big bucks, he isn’t smart enough to see there’s some sort of scam afoot and gets caught up in a mystery that I would be criminal to point out.
Meanwhile, police are looking into the assassination of multiple corporate drones as well as homeless people in what is seemingly senseless violence for its own sake. The cops know they work for the corporates and just don’t care about justice anymore. They’re paid to supply grist for the mill.
What makes this book so good is weird because it shouldn’t be uncommon but is, is scale. There is no saving the world, no epic overthrow of conspiracies, and no one trying to be a hero. It’s a fry cook, a cop who has lost any illusions about doing the right thing, and a young woman out to simply spite someone who deserves it no matter how many bodies it takes. Keeping it to personal crime where there’s no good ending to any of this makes it actually meaningful because a happy ending is impossible–just a minimum of awful for maybe one of the three protagonists.