Tag Archives: Corey J White

Review: Repo Virtual

Repo Virtual is the debut novel from Melbourne author Corey J White, published by Tor. It’s unrelated to the trilogy of novels he has released previously (Killing GravityVoid Black Shadow, and Static Ruin, collectively known as The Voidwitch Saga). I’ve reviewed those over on Goodreads, but haven’t posted them here. I’ll get on that in coming days.
A shorter version of this review is also available on Goodreads.

Repo Virtual

Repo Virtual is unapologetically cyberpunk, and with that acceptance of genre will come a lot of familiar features and tropes: the heist, the evil corporation, the Asia in the 21st Century, the virtual reality, the AI… and they’re all here, and they do form the backbone of the novel, but White has built something original on that framework, and updated the genre for the actual 21st Century, not the one being imagined by the cyberpunk pioneers of the 80s. That’s not to say that those 80s influences aren’t here. There’s definitely a debt of gratitude owed to some of the genre’s landmark works, but that’s the nature of genre isn’t it? As I said, unapologetic.

Overall I enjoyed the novel. It hooked me early and I kept making time and making excuses to read it during a pretty busy phase of my life, which is always a good sign. I was invested in the characters, and their fates, and there was an interesting philosophical depth beneath the aesthetic and the action.

(more detail, but no real spoilers, below)

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The heist itself is really just the set-up. It serves to introduce the protagonist, JD, and some of the important people in his life–a friend/colleague from an online gaming world and his step-sibling–but it is over quickly and relatively easily by the end of the first act.

The story really picks up once JD has his hands on the prize and the various forces with an interest in either recovering or receiving it are in motion. In this, Zero Corporation functions in much the way we would expect a Corp to function in a Cyberpunk future, with a profit-driven lack of morality and a single-minded obsession with self. The other player here is Kali, a pseudo-mystical leader of a cult of the disenfranchised in the city’s slums. She’s a little more nuanced, and her connections to JD’s life and relationships a little more complex.

Once the heist is completed JD goes to ground, and White takes a bit of a risk benching his protagonist (and our lens on the world) and introducing a new POV character in Enda. Structurally, this changes the nature of the story and our relationship with it, but it’s well done and the novel is better for it: having multiple perspectives on the world really fleshes it out well, and Enda has her own complex backstory on a more grand scale than JD’s local hustle.

There is a third POV character as well, who is introduced in snippets right from the start but as the plot develops this character increasingly enters and eventually takes over the narration in the 1st person. White’s skill in managing this perspective shift is genuinely impressive and shows both boldness and precision in his craft.

On the downside, the villains of the piece were a little monochrome, their motivations and their methods fairly simplistic. The climax, once in motion, moved a little too smoothly to the resolution. Complicated situations became perhaps too quickly uncomplicated. Moral quandaries are raised and then side-stepped without real angst being required.

That said, White set the stage well and followed through. He’s committed to his take on the genre and on the philosophical questions he’s raising, and he avoids some of the pitfalls of cliche along that path.

I was satisfied with the ending and especially impressed by the epilogue, another bold decision from White to shift the scope of our perspective and to put a genuine full-stop on the story.

I’m looking forward to his next novel now.


Reflections on Continuum 2018

I have just wrapped up my first ever Continuum weekend.

I had a great time, caught up with some people I knew and got to know them better, met some new and interesting people, and sat in or on some fascinating panels about Speculative Fiction which catered to both craft and to fandom.

“This Panel is its own Grandfather”. A discussion of time travel, excellently moderated by Marlee-Jane Ward, and featuring (L-R) Corey J White, me, Darren/Lexie and Thalia Kalkipsakis.         Photo Credit to Sophie Y (@Smoph)

The con started with a real commitment to making itself a welcoming place to all comers. There were colour-coded pegs available so people could indicate whether they were actively seeking to meet new people, or if they preferred to avoid new social contact. The membership name-tags had a space to indicate your preferred pronouns and the toilets on one level were gender neutral. The con organisers made the code of conduct explicit and clear and gave people a variety of ways to report when con-goers might have violated that code. They had also deliberately tried to minimise waste, using digital rather than print wherever possible and ensuring that the name-tags were recyclable. I thought each of these little efforts went a long way to establishing the tone of the con.

Probably best that I leave it to others to judge the success of the panels I sat on, but for my part I really enjoyed The Good Place panel on Friday night, and filled the role of Chidi as best I could.  On Saturday the Speculative Ethics panel which I had proposed ran to a packed room and the immediate feedback from those in the audience who sought me out afterwards was very positive. Sunday’s time-travel panel was great fun and I learnt a lot about different kinds of time-travel stories which I’m adding to an ever-expanding reading list. On Monday I moderated the panel on Speculative Detectives, and got yet more reading recommendations and enjoyed the discussion about why detectives are so enduring in genre fiction.

My top-3 highlights as a guest:

I enjoyed the Zombie Politics panel discussion. Pete Aldin and Rjurik Davidson had some interesting perspectives on why audiences are so attracted to zombie fiction, and how the symbolism of zombies has changed over time. Julia (I’m sorry but I didn’t catch her surname) made a great point about the origins of zombies, their links to slavery, and what these stories have to say about our fear of losing agency of our own bodies. I was particularly interested in exploring how these undead figures might represent our political fears, and that’s probably something I will explore in more detail to come.

The panel on mental health in Spec Fic also had a lot of interesting things to say about how mental health conditions are represented in fiction, and the difference between good rep and damaging rep. As recent events continue to show us, mental health is a huge issue facing (in particular) the western world and I think it’s great to see efforts to remove some of the historical stigma and have a meaningful conversation about these conditions.

The Sunday night panel on Secondary Worlds Sans Magic was relevant to my own writing, and it was great to see other authors and readers exploring the concept of Fantasy stories which don’t have wizards and sorcerers and spells. The debate really centred around whether magic was essential to the Fantasy genre, or whether these magic-less world s were a different genre entirely. Mostly the panel agreed that non-magic worlds could still be Fantasy, but I was particularly interested how ‘magic’ could be defined. I wondered if N.K. Jemisin’s ‘Orogeny’ was magic, or China Mieville’s ‘thaumaturgy’. It is a well-known quote that ‘any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic’, but I wondered if perhaps the reverse was true: is any sufficiently well-studied magic indistinguishable from technology?

So overall, an excellent weekend and plenty within it to have fueled my creative fires. I added about 1,000 words to the WiP over the course of the weekend and I’m about to go back to it this evening and have another crack at it in earnest. I think it’s not too far away from beta-reader stage and I’m sure it will be better for incorporating some of the ideas and inspirations I’ve gotten out of the weekend.

Thanks to all the organisers, panelists and guests for making it such a great con.