Book Review: Reality Testing (Sundown, #1) by Grant Price

  • Title: Reality Testing
  • Author: Grant Price
  • Where to buy: Amazon (affiliate link)
  • Genre: Cyberpunk, Dystopian, Sci-Fi
  • Would I recommend: Enthusiastically, if you’re a sci-fi/dystopian/cyberpunk fan. Grant Price writes a masterful work of fiction that could very well become reality.

Synopsis:

Welcome to Berlin. Population: desperate. In the throes of the climate crisis the green tech pioneers are king, and if you aren’t willing to be their serf then you’re surplus to requirements.

Carbon credit for sleeping on the job. That’s the offer a dreamtech puts to Mara Kinzig, and she jumps on it. After all, the city ain’t getting any cheaper.

Then somebody changes the deal while she’s dreaming in the tank.

Now Mara has a body on her hands, an extra voice in her head, and the law on her tail. Only the Vanguard, a Foreign Legion of outcasts seeking an alternative path in the dust between the city states, might be able to help her figure out what went wrong. First, though, she’ll have to escape the seething streets of Berlin alive.

My review:

Grant Price writes a cyberpunk dystopian tale that grabs you right off the bat.

“The man’s blood was on her skin and now she would have to run.”

Mara Kinzig agreed to a stint in a dreamtank for easy money, because life in the city doesn’t come cheap. But she wakes up to something other than what she bargained for. A dead man she doesn’t recognize. A body that isn’t the one she went to sleep in. And a second voice in her head that most definitely isn’t hers.

She’s desperate to figure out who she is, but she knows she can’t stay where she is. The body has been discovered, the robotic bull cops are hot on her tail, and there’s a price on her head high enough to make just about anyone who sees her turn her in. So she flees outside the city to the Vanguard, a mysterious group that may or may not exist. She’s hoping that, if she finds them, they can help her survive long enough to solve both the mystery of the dead man and the mystery of who she is. Who is the dead man? Why was she framed for his murder? Who (or what) is the voice Mara has begun hearing in her head? Does she – does Mara – even really exist anymore?

Grant Price crafts an engrossing and slightly disturbing vision of a future Earth. The story is set in a future Berlin. Carbon credits are currency, and climate crisis has wreaked havoc. Technology is king, the wealthy call the shots, and the poor are human test subjects in every kind of scientific experiment you can imagine. The green infrastructure that was supposed to be society’s salvation is a crumbling mess. The haves care only about having more, and the have-nots are disposable.

I get serious Blade Runner vibes from Price’s story, with a touch of Firefly coming through in some of the jargon he uses. There’s rather a lot of jargon included without much overt explanation, but I was able to determine the meaning pretty well from context. A couple of chapters in, and it all made sense to me just fine.

The world Price has constructed is incredibly detailed and well thought out. I could just feel the noise and overwhelm of the city as Mara tried to break free of it. I mean, the mental clutter of a world where the advertisements tailor themselves to your frequency – thinking about it makes my brain itch! The squalor of the underground, the unexpected open spaces Mara finds, I can see all of it in my mind’s eye because Price puts it together so effectively.

His characters are well-constructed, too. No one, not even the most minor character, feels like an afterthought or a throwaway. Everyone in the story has a role to play, and they do so admirably.

The story moves pretty quickly, and that makes it a fast read. It’s thought-provoking, because who knows but that our society couldn’t end up like the one envisioned here. With its questions of environmental preservation, how to survive with limited resources, ethically and morally questionable technological procedures, and more, this is a book that really gives you pause to consider where our world may be headed.

Five stars for a dang good story. I want to know what happens next!

Disclaimer: I was provided a review copy of this book by the author. All opinions here are mine, and I don’t say nice things about books I don’t actually like.

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