Archangel Protocol, by Lyda Morehouse, is a new cross genre novel with a broad based appeal. The narration is approachable without being simplified and the plot takes off quickly, taking the reader on a fascinating ride through an appalling, yet familiar, world.
Ms. Morehouse has created a cast of wonderfully believable and fascinating characters, complete with goals and dreams, but also flaws -- the most important feature assigned to realistic characters. They don't always have the answers and they don't always make the best decisions. Their feelings often get in the way of altruism and orders, and in the end it is the things that make them most human that have the greatest impact. There are a number of key characters in this novel, good and evil, all of whom have been carefully composed such that none feel like cardboard stand-ins for an archetype. The protagonist, Deidre McMannus, is well developed and likable, so the book does not need to rely on those in supporting roles to inspire interest and sympathy, as often happens in novels with many characters. Furthermore, good and evil aren't laid out in clearly demarcated black and white, again more representative of the real world, avoiding the absurdity of caricature that comes with absolute extremes. Deciding who is on what side, and who has no allegiance to either, is part of the mystery Deidre must solve. Often there is a mix of good and evil, muddying the waters of perception. Some evil, it seems, may even act for the side of good.
The setting for the novel is a post-apocalyptic U.S., which has discarded science as villainous in an attempt to assign blame after a war of global proportions. All good law-abiding citizens have adopted an approved religion along with a wetware implant allowing constant access to the LINK, a faster, vaster Internet. LINK users can cruise their favorite bulletin boards whilst simultaneously absorbing information and entertainment (often marketed as the same thing) simply by thinking about it. On the upside, Presidential debates get great ratings, but on the downside, excessive use of the LINK and some of its features can result in addiction and brain damage. The LINK has been the venue for recent miracles: the appearance of entities dubbed "LINK-Angels", accepted by all major religions as the genuine article. Angel mania rampages through society, inspiring people to extreme acts on behalf of their religious beliefs. One such zealot has initiated the Last Day movement, which is determined to provide space for the burials of good Christians by changing the protected status of certain national forests. The land is to be divided into cemetery plots so that the deceased may properly rise bodily to heaven when the end of the world, always close at hand, arrives. Leaping on the latest craze, other citizens have legally changed their names to include one or more of the many named angels of their particular brand of faith.
Enter Deidre McMannus, former detective on the New York police force. Fired, excommunicated, and cut off from the LINK, she has taken up private investigation as a means of survival. She has a lot of baggage: guilt over how things have ended up as they have, and unanswered questions. Into her office strolls Michael, a client who insists that the LINK-Angels are fake. Her life, it seems, has become entangled with this controversy, and she finds she must take Michael's case in order to answer her own questions and resolve her unfinished business. Armed with contemporary sensibilities, the reader is often just a bit ahead of Deidre in unraveling some of the mysteries of the novel, but also just a bit behind on others, illustrating Morehouse's skill at maintaining the character's point of view. In attempting to prove Michael's claim, she finds there is far more at stake than she imagined possible. Some things have truly eternal consequences.
At the outset of the story Deidre is distinctly a product of her culture. An outcast, she has been exposed to the gross underbelly of her world, and though she sees the obvious hypocrisy and social problems, she is torn. While railing against the politics, she still longs to reconnect to the LINK and return to respectable society. Although lacking in genuine religious faith, she is unable to turn her back on her church, even if it has turned its back on her. As the book progresses, Deidre makes observations that indicate a change within her, and a modification of her beliefs about the world culture. At one point she notices the dichotomy of the anti-science/pro-LINK attitudes. This observation is made in passing, as it is not significant to the plot, but it shows that her perceptions are changing as a result of the factors newly introduced in her life. But true changes of heart and mind, particularly of things so ingrained, take time, and Ms. Morehouse handles this in a realistic fashion. It is not until later that Deidre herself comprehends the full impact.
This future world has a complex history and political system, which have been built without the excess of techno garbage and slang usually associated with cyberpunk. The new and unfamiliar are explained smoothly and succinctly, keeping the story from getting bogged down in definitions. There are moments of wonderful imagery, occasionally allegorical, giving the reader a vision of this world and the people who live within it.
I turned around just in time to see Michael and Morningstar draw their weapons. Michael grabbed for the battered .45 with his right hand as Morningstar reached for his weapon with his left. Their arms unfurled in perfect unison. They looked like deadly mirror images.
Goldilocks herself would find the description just right, showing the reader the characters and their world without slowing things down. Thus, the pace of the story complements the rapidly unfolding plot, making it an extremely tough book to put down.
S.N. Arly's short fiction has appeared in Fearsmag.com and in the Dragon*Con 2000 chapbook Do Virgins Taste Better, published by 7-Realms Publishing Corp.
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