I was lucky enough to receive a free, advance copy of a book from the author, Daniel Verastiqui. Like I was a real journalist or something. It felt…significant, like I was being given something to care for.
I liked it. And then I had to review it.
Daniel self-publishes, and that route to publishing immortality has come a long way. He’s gone to a lot of trouble to make sure he’s delivering a real, professional reading experience, and I appreciated that. The book in my hand looked like a book – with a beautifully designed cover and a neat, clean format throughout. He writes; he’s serious. His presentation made that very clear.
So, having made an initial judgement based on the cover, as is traditional, I dived in.
Daniel writes within the genres of sci-fi, cyberpunk, and dystopian fiction so, on the one hand, this is my home. A lover of both Blade Runners, Mad Max, The Matrix, the works of Christopher Nolan, even, I have at least one foot planted firmly in this camp. But look on my bookshelves, and you’ll see nothing like that. I watch sci-fi – I watch a lot of it – but I don’t really read it.
But after reading Daniel’s book, I can tell you two things: traditional sci-fi is not for me; and Daniel writes a rollicking ride through our inevitable disastrous future.
I have known the famously reclusive and eccentric Mr V for a few years now and I can say one thing for certain: We are very different writers. Daniel finishes things, for a start; whereas it’s touch-and-go as to whether I make it to the end of this sentence, never mind finish the whole review.
Brigham Plaza is Daniel’s latest novel in the world he created and it shows – as I read, I felt like he was showing exactly what was in his head. It seems clear to me that he can see every detail, every object, surface, gesture, and facial expression. He has that all very definitely in his imagination (or sketched like a crazy person on a series of Post-Its, who knows?) and his book feels in part like VR adventure in that he gives this fully formed world to us so we can walk around, pick up objects, see the pores on the faces of the characters.
This is a stand-alone story – no knowledge of what comes before is necessary – although I did at times feel a little lost with who is who and why they’re doing what they’re doing. This is no doubt at least partly due to my oncoming decrepitude. For future releases, maybe a Previously on… section at the start would help us slow-on-the-uptake latecomers.
As any semi-regular read of this blog will know, I have no interest in reviews that spend half their length just trotting out the basic plot points of the story. There’s a description on the back of the book. Read that. It’s a story with synthetic humans, hackers, electronic drugs, weapons, conspiracies, mysteries, and death. There’s action, nudity, and the chapters are pleasantly short. I always appreciate that in a book.
So here’s a shocking confession for a reviewer of this book: I can’t make it through a single thing by William Gibson. I just can’t. The constant references to new tech or random future corporations…the dialogue that at once propels the story but also holds within it impenetrable slang or future-speak…to use a phrase from my people, it does my head in.
But, I’m going to guess, Daniel has read everything by Gibson and his literary progeny. He has absorbed the conventions and expectations and recreated them expertly on his own page. And if the dialogue at times reminds me of Harrison Ford’s pithy observation to George Lucas that it is easier to write this stuff than to say it, then that is very much on-brand for the genre he’s working in. The things in the novel that sat less well with my reading preferences, therefore, were (maybe in the words of the genre itself) not bugs but features.
I’ve also suggested he mixes up his character descriptions a little for variety. He knows what I mean.
It didn’t take long for my subconscious mind to decide to let the more technical descriptions of the world go by and focus on the adventure story instead – learning about the characters as they’re slowly introduced to us rather than trying to keep the whole world intact in my imagination as I went. And that, for me, was where the pleasure was. There’s a through-line of adventure in Brigham Plaza that I caught hold of and allowed it to drag me along. I saw my version of the story in my head – I started to imagine the screenplay. It was quite a ride.
Like all good sci-fi stories, there’s at heart here an adventure – with just enough noir mystery to keep us wanting to know more; just enough tech-supported almost-superhero action to speed the heart up; and characters with lives, ideas, and thoughts of their own to keep us involved.
Daniel obviously loves the world he’s made and he works damn hard to show it to us. In summary, if this is the kind of thing you like, I think you will like it. I’m hoping he’s willing to work with a partner on the screenplay. I think we could really have something here…