Ok, remember the fuss when the internet and the music world collided? New tech emerged, old formats fell by the wayside and we found new ways of doing things. Now just imagine the changes in the world that would erupt when the sciences of pharmacology and nanotechnology shacked up together and had some naughty fun.
This is the world of RX: A Tale of Electronegativity by Robert Brockway. Or more specifically, this is the intricately detailed vertical future city sprawl of Four Corners. A cyberpunk noir totem pole with the downtrodden cramped on the bottom below sea level, and the mind numbingly wealthy and powerful in glass cathedrals hanging high above the clouds.
This is also the world of Red, a small-time supplier of custom formulas of a gas called “Presence”, which gives the illusion of being in another time or place. One of his clients is Byron, a rich kid who is addicted to reliving the history of the 18th Century poet that shares his name. Another client is foul-mouthed “Factory Girl” QC, who Red helps occasionally with some gray market nanotech she uses in her work. Which is helping prepare and clean up after mass-hallucination Presence based anachronistic grudge matches like Abraham Lincoln vs. a Triceratops.
So when Byron and QC run into each other while looking for Red at his apartment around the same time that some heavily trained and equipped badasses go looking for Red at his apartment, they decide to try and find him and figure out what's going on. Good thing too, as Red wound up in the wrong lift, at the very bottom sub-level of Four corners, with a drug hangover, a circulatory system full of copy-written beta-test formulas, and absolutely no pants.
Brockway shoehorns a ton of detail about the environment he's created. From the clans in the tightly packed sub-levels, to the detailed effects of Presence trips, there are plenty of ideas for multiple novels weaved throughout the book. I only wish he spent as much time on the character development and dramatic pacing. The story bounces between Red's journey, and the journey of QC & Byron, when suddenly about three-fourths of the way in the perspective changes to characters that were never really part of the narrative at all. Took me a bit to realize it was the intruders at Red's place in the beginning of the novel, but dropping their narrative that late in the novel was jarring to say the least. As far as character development, there wasn't any. Byron was the useless rich kid junkie, and QC was a hard ass chick with a creative Tourettes streak. (The term f*cksquad, I actually want to catch on). And stayed that way until the end. Which it just kind of ended abruptly, without any satisfying conclusion. Red stumbled upon a MAJOR development in Presence tripping technology, and yet did NOTHING with it.
RX: A Tale of Electronegativity is an amazing feat of sci-fi world building, and I know there are some amazing stories happening in the sprawl of Four Corners, but sadly, not in this novel. Having innovative ideas is a great thing for a sci-fi novel. But so is a compelling story.
Jason's Rating: 2 and 1/2 nanotech eating pigs outta five.