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Feb 2 2014 9:15pm

Fresh Meat: RedDevil 4 by Eric C. Leuthardt

RedDevil 4 by Eric C. Leuthardt, a techno-medical thrillerRedDevil 4 by Eric C. Leuthardt is a futuristic thriller about a neurosurgeon brought to assist police with a series of horrifying murders in 2053's St. Louis (available February 4, 2014).

Dr. Eric Leuthardt’s debut novel, RedDevil 4, is described as a medico-techno-thiller. It might be described also as speculative fiction, since this neurosurgeon and neuroscientist from St. Louis has set his story in 2053. He opens the book with a character that must have required a minimum of personal speculation; Hagan Maerici is a neurosurgeon whose physical description closely matches that of Leuthardt himself. And Dr. Maerici’s life does not appear so different from what an ambitious neurosurgeon’s today might be: chasing grant dollars while being pressured by his boss to develop a new treatment for erectile dysfunction. Plus ça change...?

Not quite, because Leuthardt wants us to believe huge changes have already taken place. As Maerici tells his boss,

“If we were having this conversation thirty years ago, you would be arguing against all the work that went into neuroprosthetics. Look what changed—every human’s mind is connected and augmented in every way possible. You and I, and about ninety percent of the human population, have a neuroprosthetic implanted. We can use our thoughts to engage the world beyond the limits of our bodies, brain-to-brain communication has changed the way humans interact, we can fix almost any brain injury, and the virtual reality—it’s changed the way we do everything.”

Except that it hasn’t. Leuthardt peppers his novel with much of what by 2053 might verge on the arcane, including ballpoint pens, cleaning ladies, Tudor-style houses, and “starched polyester.” Dr. Maerici references HIPAA as the current medical information privacy act, and even mentions Rev. Jim Jones. (One can almost hear younger readers asking, “Who?”) When Maerici states, “Our ability to process numbers, to write language, is all intimately linked with our ability to manipulate our fingers,” readers may well stop to think whether anyone will still be writing by hand in 2053. Why bother when people can communicate brain-to-brain?

While he does not build a comprehensive vision of the future, Leuthardt does generate several provoking, if unpleasantly plausible, ideas. One is about the new kinds of illegal highs, as explained by a detective to his colleague:

“The Chameleon deals everything from old-school pills, to the skin adhesives, to illegal implants—you know, the fuzzer shit.”

“No, Al, I get that—what’s the guy who got killed been dealing?”

“Bunch of genomics and looks like he was putting together some pleasure code . . . DEA is coming down on the new stuff. Feels better than the old stuff, which just mimicked reality . . . The new programming they’re putting together is a little different. Apparently, they figured out ways to stimulate the deeper stuff, you know the thalamus and the brain stem—”

“No, I don’t know.”

“Jesus, Ed—you’re some type of caveman—the parts of the brain, deep in the center, that make you feel really good. You know, those are the spots that old stuff like heroin act on and where the fuzzers put their illegal electrode implants. Apparently, they can code people’s civilian hardware to do the same thing.”

To Krantz it was getting foggier and foggier on what was illegal and what wasn’t—pills, syringes, adhesives, implanted electrodes, and now addictive software—he was glad he dealt with the murders.

Addictive software—there’s a scary thought!—is taken to a new level by those Leuthardt labels the Symbiotes:

Hackers, gadget junkies, and addicts that had gone open source all the way. A gang of youths with networked neuroprosthetics—share and share alike—they were connected to each other on every level. No firewalls. Like a good joint, all experiences were passed around and shared. They were a colony, a pack, a unified plural, they were symbiote, the antisocial, overconnected counterculture movement for shiftless runaways and tech scavengers.

Another dreadful idea that one can only expect will make an appearance long before 2053 is the “news drones, small hovering video cameras that were sent to reportable events.”

Yet as intriguing as this handful of passages may be, they are not enough to sustain most readers through a 365-page narrative jittery with chapter breaks, yet bogged down by overblown prose amid all the techno-talk. And as a veteran of clinical research into neurotransmitters, this reader had a hard time suspending disbelief regarding the manner of delivery whereby a key bit of neuroprosthetic programming is transmitted. But hey, he’s the neuroscientist. He has ideas to offer. While almost none are reassuring, they bear examination.

 

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Kate Lincoln writes crime fiction informed by her years in clinical medicine and as a homeopath and EMT, most of which is set in New Jersey horse country called the Somerset Hills.

See all of Kate Lincoln’s posts for Criminal Element.

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