Travel Documents 56: Malware

Malware: An Idle Hands Hackers Prequel Novella

Sara Rayne
Genre: near-future, synthetic intelligence,technothriller, action-adventure, LGBT

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The Dust Cover Copy

Synthetic Intelligence.

“They thought we were just college students. Thought they had all the power. Watch us prove them all wrong.”

It’s our time now.

What did Riley Quinn and her team of genius hackers build?
It’s an urban legend.
A cyber myth.
A secret.
On the eve of graduation from the Sharp Tech, her team of hackers celebrate the fruits of four years’ labors. Tomorrow they gift their invention to the world. Tensions are high and lines will be crossed on their last night together. But these will be the least of their worries once their secret prototype gets out.
Because Project: Devil’s Playground is more than it seems.
It’s a weapon.
A threat.
A ticking time bomb.
What did Riley Quinn build?
Everyone’s about to find out.
Tick…Tick… Boom.

The Deets

The Scene

Worldbuilding

This is another one that’s been in my TBR far, far too long, and it’s great to get to it.

Don’t ask how big my TBR is. Friends don’t call friends out on their tottering TBR pile.

Set pretty close to the present day, this story setup is classic. A team of brilliant and brash college kids studying on a slightly Google-like campus (hint, hint). They’re high on life. They’re giving as good as they got. And they just realized that the world out there is a hell of a lot more serious than they thought.

Keeping this story contemporaneous was a good call, because it allowed us to focus on what’s really different in this world: the first AI and the really evil business mogul (well, okay, the really obviously, up-front evil, that is. The kind who blows up cars, not the kind who steals your life when you aren’t looking.)

I found the slap-upside-the-head, ‘wow, the world really is out to get us’ element of this story so relatable, and that made me grin. Now, I didn’t have a car blown up in front of me like the characters in this book, but I imagine a lot of us who’ve gone through the American education system have a nasty moment of disillusionment in mind; that moment where you thought ‘goddamn, I studied, I did everything I was supposed to, and this is what happens?! I’ve been screwed!’ This book taps into that post-college slump in a deliciously satisfying way. And unlike us, this team gets their own back for the bait-and-switch.

The Crowd

Characterization

I have to hand it to this story: it rocks because of its characters. There’s Riley, the petite and precise engineer. Get out of her way or get hacked into oblivion. She takes no bullshit.
There’s Colt, tough as nails on the outside, struggling with his need to protect and his burgeoning orientation on the inside. Alex has absolutely no issues with his orientation, but his nightmares haunt him. He hides from them in action of all kinds. There’s Fox, whip-smart and sex on a stick, living life her way. There’s Will, a true-Blue American boy who thinks the government can fix all the ills of the country, if only people would trust it. And there’s Faith: wry, sly, haunted, and probably the clearest thinking of the team. Their interactions run the gamut from familial to full-on steamy, and those interactions absolutely make the story.

Writing Style

This is really the only place the work stumbles. The writing style, in its purest sense, is good old fashioned action adventure of the best kiss-kiss-bang-bang variety, with a bit more backstory and emotional depth. But the formatting could really use some work. Choices about italicization aren’t consistent and mean different things in different scenes. The intro to each chapter labels the character POV, but it does it as an italicized line with an ellipse to follow. Took me three chapters to get that someone wasn’t thinking about someone else, and that’s an issue. I’d like to see another pass for typos, and page breaks used between chapters. Please don’t get me wrong here: I really like this series. In fact, I was late for an appointment finishing this book. But we indies have to gently remind one another to keep up on the details, because the world will not be gentle with us on this. Every indie book with issues out there reflects on the whole wild tribe of us, and we gotta up our game.

The Moves

Plot

This was an absolute rollercoaster of a plot, twisting and turning every time you thought you’d hit the peak. In general shape it’s similar to Ocean’s 11, but it has the spirit of Lethal Weapon and the energy of Die Hard.  In short, it rocks

Overall Rating

This is the kind of action flick I want to see more of. Grab it before it gets away!