Review: Plastic Jesus / Author: Wayne Simmons / Publisher: Salt Publishing / Release Date: November 15th
Up until now, Belfast-born Wayne Simmons has been diligently working his way up the ladder, steadily building his reputation as an established blogger, columnist and horror author with novels like Flu, Fever, Drop Dead Gorgeous and Doll Parts to his name. Now, he steps out of his blood-splattered comfort zone and makes an indelible mark on the sci-fi genre with his first foray into the world of cyberpunk.
Due in stores in November, Plastic Jesus is an unrelenting look at the near future. Simmons skilfully comments on the current state of society and without stretching credibility, manages to give us a peek at where we may be headed. Believe us, the view isn’t a particularly inviting one but what it does is provide a stunningly realistic and relatable backdrop for a story that’s as gritty and violent as it is intriguing.
In the aftermath of a Holy War, the face of the Earth has changed. Continents have realigned. Maalside, which was once part of the US, is now in the middle of the Pacific far, far away from the mother country. It’s capital is Lark City and to quote from another sci-fi icon: "You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy."
Drugs, prostitution, murder and protection are all part of the daily routine in this underbelly of civilisation. The inhabitants escape the daily drudge and seediness by using VR – an addictive set-up where your brain is directly plugged into an invasive virtual reality program – and watching TV shows which seem vaguely familiar but taken to an extreme.
However, the company running the VR setup intends to rebrand religion to cater for the disillusioned masses and approach Johnny Lyon to create and write a virtual Jesus. At its launch, VR Jesus is an overwhelming success, and offers comfort where comfort is needed. The trouble is, the program begins to evolve beyond the boundaries of its concept and soon becomes impossible to shut down. Just as man has created his own heaven, hell is sure to follow as the corrupt program causes chaos and a complete breakdown of the social order out on the streets.
Simmons is a gifted writer who not only spins a tightly plotted yarn that the reader finds hard to put down, but he also crafts realistic characters with flaws we can identify with, sucking the reader even deeper into the twisted pseudo-reality created in the recesses of Simmons’ imagination. Given the depth of the story here and the dexterity that Simmons displays in wrapping a gripping yarn around an audacious concept, it’s stunning that this is his first cyberpunk novel. We can only hope that it won’t be his last. Wayne Simmons is a true British talent we can be proud of.