Review: Virtual Sabotage by Julie Hyzy
Virtual Sabotage by Julie Hyzy follows a virtual reality company whose implants allow consumers to experience exhilarating imagined adventures—all while remaining perfectly safe. Most of the time, that is.
Kenna Ward, a virtual reality envoy for a Virtu-Tech franchise, wakes up to a call for help she never expected. Charlie, her partner in life and work, made an unauthorized entry into a virtual reality program at their place of employment. He’s in trouble. She’s going in to bring him and his client out.
“Your body’s far away. Safe.” Kenna started to dig her signal medallion out from beneath her T-shirt. “I’m going to get you out of here now,” she said. “They’ll send someone back in for me, so I’ll be right behind you. You are fine,” she added, putting emphasis on the word “fine,” but the aching wound on her leg gave her doubts. “You aren’t here, Charlie. Remember? You’re safe. Your real body is back at AdventureSome.”
Kenna lifted the medallion’s necklace over her head. “I’m going to put this in your hand, okay? It’ll take you—”
“No!” Charlie coughed the word out, his red-rimmed eyes clenching shut as his body tightened in on itself. More blood poured from the gaping wound. She suppressed a startled cry. He opened his eyes again. “No time.”
“Listen,” Kenna said, refusing to accept that Charlie was near complete mortal absorption. If he believed all this was real, his body back in his capsule would react as if it were true. Unless she could convince him otherwise, he’d die from his own sympathetic response to perceived injuries. “This is not real.”
Think of the Holodeck on the Enterprise. What if it became available at a price practically anyone can afford? Just a chip implanted in your brain—with free upgrades for life—and you can experience almost anything as if it were real. And it’s mostly safe. The highly-trained envoys can enter any virtual experience and help you get back safely. Would you sign up?
Her attention settled on the monitor affixed to the wall across from them. Soothing music set the tone for the new Virtu-Tech advertisements. Seeking escape from the recent terrors she and Stewart—and Kenna, poor Kenna—had lived through, she let herself be mesmerized by the score, marveling at the effort that she knew must go into creating new ads every month or so. Not that they needed updating. People flocked into VR facilities so regularly she wondered why the Virtu-Tech big shots felt the need to advertise Implant 6.0 at all.
Like all prior implants, this new one would be provided free to clients. Claims that 6.0 would further improve the customer’s VR experience had generated considerable buzz. Yet, nearly everyone was addicted to VR already. How much more money did the company expect this upgrade to generate.
She let her fingers wander to the small area behind her right ear until she found her own implant, the 5.0. Although there was nothing wrong with it, she—like a good little lemming—intended to upgrade once the new version was available, too.
I am not an early adopter of new technology. As little as two years ago, my cell phone was with me only about half the time. Even then it was usually turned off. A week ago, I forgot it at home and panicked. How would I pay for my coffee? What if someone needed to talk to me? But the world didn’t stop turning and there were no urgent cries for help on the phone later that night.
Would I eventually join the Virtual Reality camp? The brain implant would definitely give me pause. But if I could visit anywhere in the world, even the beautiful and historical places currently suffering the effects of drought, floods, or war? Maybe. I could ask for an adventure where I solved some of those problems. Would it make me feel better or worse afterward?
The “Sabotage” in the title lets you know that the Virtual Reality program is not hacker-proof. As the news seems to announce a new hack or leak of our private information on one social media platform after another, how much scarier would it be if that platform included part of your brain?
The point of view shifts from Kenna and the techs at AdventureSome to the powers that be at Virtu-Tech to the group looking for a way to stop them. Julie Hyzy shows sympathy for all of her characters, which led me to do the same. After all, companies need to make a profit. The people at AdventureSome are doing their best to provide a safe entertainment experience for their customers. And protesters feel they have good reasons for their concerns.
Depending on your point of view, you may prefer one group over another. I did pick a favorite before the end. I won’t say which one or if I was right. I will say that this book made me think and rethink the benefits and dangers of my very plugged in life.