About the Book
The Brain Trade: Grown in crèches and programmed with a tribal warrior code, the minds of children are harvested by the black market. Sold to the highest bidder, they’re installed in deadly combat machines and assassin chassis.
Griffin, a junior Investigations agent for the North American Trade Union, is put on the case: Find and close the illegal crèches. Installed in a combat chassis, Abdul, a depressed 17-year-old killed during the Secession Wars in Old Montreal, is assigned as Griffin’s Heavy Weapons support. Nadia, a state-sanctioned investigative reporter working the stolen children story, pushes Griffin ever deeper into the nightmare of the brain trade.
In the La Carpio slums of Costa Rica, the scanned mind of an autistic girl named only 88 runs the South American Mafia’s business interests. But 88 wants more. She wants freedom. And she has come to see humanity as a threat. She has an answer: Archaeidae. He died when he was eight. At 14, a six-gun slinging, katana-wielding machine of death, he is the deadliest assassin alive.
Two children against the world. The world is going to need some help.
This audiobook was given to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.
A while ago, one Michael R. Fletcher put it about online that he was getting his book Ghosts of Tomorrow turned into an audiobook, but he never listened to audiobooks so he wanted help with the narrator auditions. I, of course, raised my hand and said, “ME! ME! ME!” Anyway, long story short, I heard three (I think) narrators, and one of them was this English woman. He didn’t tell me who anyone was, so I just knew it was some English woman. I listened to her audition, and wrote Fletcher something like, “Dude, I could listen to her read a phone book.”
It turned out, pretty much everyone felt that way, and I’m assuming that that, along with the fact that Fletcher liked her audition (which is the most important part) helped land her the role of narrator. And, long story short, we’ve got R.B. Watkinson’s first voice acting foray with Ghosts of Tomorrow, and she did really, really well. Now, my only complaint regarding her narration was some of the accents were a little… odd. Like the Texas drawl didn’t pan out, but she’s English and I’m pretty sure that if I tried to do a passable English accent, the entire country would probably throw beer in my face and/or laugh me off the island, so I can’t hold it against her.
Anyway, narrator wise, despite some accent issues, Watkinson is super easy to listen to and has a very smooth voice and easy flow. She does a pretty damn good job at reading a book that is this intense and violent and does it in a way that makes it easy to absorb. So, bravo on that front.
Now, onto the book itself.
By this point in my evolution as a speculative fiction reader, I understand that Fletcher does not write books that should be read if you’re faint of heart. He is brutal, and graphic, and oh so dark. He doesn’t hold anything back. Oddly enough, I have never really felt like he’s glorified the violence in the books he writes. It always feels very natural. Yes, it’s dark, and yes, it’s brutal, but it belongs in his books and his worlds.
Anyway, Ghosts of Tomorrow takes place in the near future. Most countries have dissolved and instead turned into trade unions, akin to huge corporations so they can easily compete on the global marketplace. There are a few references of hotter temperatures, wars that had been fought, and various other details that give readers a sense of how things became the way they were, and just how things are now.
Mixed into this are a huge underground crime culture and a virtual reality. Both of these things overlay the whole book. Now, the organized crime is pretty self-explanatory. However, the virtual reality is really where things get interesting, as this book is really told on two fronts, one being in reality, the other being in a virtual sphere. The virtual reality was really the part of the book that ended up interesting me more than I thought it would.
But in order to explain why, perhaps you should understand how this virtual reality mostly works, and how it ties into the crime culture. Also, this is where you’ll get your first sniff as to the why and how of the dark details of this book.
You see, if a person is damaged somehow, but their head can be preserved, their consciousness is kind of downloaded onto these computers, so they lose their body, but become essentially machines controlled by the consciousness that was downloaded. This gives some opportunities, for example, there’s a soldier who dies, but his head is salvaged and he’s essentially given “eternal life” as a machine fighting for the North American Trade Union’s military.
On the other hand, there are illegal creches, where children are either illegally bred, or stolen. Their bodies are disposed of, and they are downloaded onto these computers to live forever in these virtual worlds. It’s, quite honestly, horrifying.
Usually, the most horrific characters in books are ones who are slightly mature – maybe not adults, but almost never young kids. They might have the wrong ideas about things, but they have these ideas through life experience and observation. These kids in Ghosts of Tomorrow were never given that chance to grow up, so they were basically given ‘eternal life’ as computers, or machines, and sent into the world without any of the life experience, or morality that someone even a little older would have. This unmooring gives the whole conflict an incredibly difficult light. First, a lot of these kids are just terrifying, but how do you really deal with a child who honestly probably doesn’t know better, or doesn’t really understand real from pretend? Or which actions are part of some elaborate game, and which are real?
And then there is the issue of that marine I mentioned above, who spends the book giving readers a rather intimate look into the personal conflict of becoming a machine. Most of his narrative is really, genuinely captivating because he’s grappling with what it means to be a human. Does one have to have a beating heart to be human? Or does humanity transcend that? Can he be human if he is essentially a machine?
Then there is the investigator and the journalist, whose jobs are to investigate these illegal crèches and destroy them. Their own moral dilemmas, how do you deal with kids who have done horrible things, but are still just kids – are thrown into the mix. It’s fascinating.
My favorite character ended up being 88, an autistic girl who was sucked into this whole situation via a mafia in Central America. She figures out how to sever her chains with her masters, and sort of spends the book making this virtual empire. While she’s busy dominating this sphere, her core truth is that she just wants to find her mom. The juxtaposition of her character is, quite frankly, incredibly sobering, and its own unique kind of horrifying.
So, we’ve got all these situations, set in a near future world. There’s lots of explosions and bullets flying, plenty of swearing, lots of dismembered heads, and piles of dead bodies, some of them are sold off for fertilizer. Folks, it’s all here.
But what really got me about this entire book, under all this interesting stuff, is the very interesting, very smart way that Fletcher took these complex moral questions and threw them at readers in such a way that it is impossible not to think of them, to ponder their implications, to wonder where you, dear reader, would sit in a world like that one.
Fletcher is a dark author, but he’s also a very smart one, and his books are impossible to put down.
Ghosts of tomorrow honestly blew me away. I wasn’t sure what I expected going into it, but it was so intense and was working on so many layers, that when I finished it I had to sit back and catch my breath.
I’m not sure why Fletcher isn’t a better-known name in the genre. It seems like a travesty that a book this good can be written, and it isn’t a main topic of conversation yet.