I traded books with J.I. Rogers at a comic con we both attended, and sat down to start reading The Korpes File, partially because I was intrigued by the blurb, but partially so I would have something to talk with her about the next day, since our tables were next to each other.
And I didn’t put it down for a good two hours, even though I was exhausted and really needed to sleep.
This is a stunningly good cyberpunk dystopian thriller. The world of Tamyrh has been trashed by war involving weapons of mass destruction. The surface is uninhabitable, so the survivors live in a claustrophobic underground warren, with only the wealthiest of communities living under domes able to see the sky. These communities are controlled by vast corporations that own everything – including people. Particular wealthy families dominate the corporations, which means they control all the best access to resources and technology.
Enter Nash Korpes, a technician – and an experimental subject. He is Diasporan; which, we are told, is different from the various other ethnic groups (which are maintained through careful genetic selection and arranged marriage), though what they embarked on a diaspora from is never clarified. His blond hair, green eyes, and tall frame mark his “alien” heritage. I can’t help but wonder if Joan D. Vinge‘s Alien Blood series was an influence on Rogers at some point.
What’s more interesting is that many of these carefully-genetically cultivated ethnic groups exude pheromones that some other ethnic groups find repellent. Nash, partially due to these pheromones, partially due to anti-Diasporan prejudice, and partially due to his own caustic personality, tends to run afoul of just about every authority figure in this dystopian corporatist hell. The corporation keeps him working on various technological projects to take advantage of his exceptional intelligence, but he is their property, not their employee.
Nash, like many in this world, is a war veteran (although whether the surface world was destroyed before this war began, we don’t know) and he suffers from PTSD and neurological trauma. He has all the associated issues with that; he’s paranoid, aloof, caustic, insomniac, and smokes and drinks too much.
But in part, he’s also the victim of a sinister plot to keep him safely medicated and compliant, because for some reason I hope will be revealed in more detail in book 2, he’s a genuine danger, and the potential threat he poses terrifies every authority figure who learns of it. It’s such a threat that his autonomy is repeatedly violated; he is fed medications he did not give consent for, and experimental neurological procedures he did not agree to are repeatedly performed on him. Part of the tension in this book delightfully rendered through Nash’s eyes, as you (and he) wonder what is real, and what is delusion.
He is also exceptionally lonely, and this is clearly and lovingly rendered by Rogers. I felt for him immediately. I was a bit reminded of Ender Wiggin (of Ender’s Game) in that he was taken from his family at a very young age and thrust into war. He is only 19 at the time the book begins.
He is matched to another Diasporan woman, and sinister things happen that separate them, even though the love they have for one another is genuine. Nash then learns that the Diasporan population is being systematically destroyed, and he launches a plan to both escape his masters and perhaps, almost inadvertently, to help his people.
There are many things I love about this book. I love the characters – even the villains are fully realized human beings who do things mostly because they believe they are necessary and righteous, or because they are driven by love for someone else, even if that love is selfish. I love the steadily mounting tension and the way this misanthrope makes just enough connections with people along the way that their potential loss is used masterfully to raise the stakes. I love the premise, too. The in media res worldbuilding is phenomenal. You have to be paying attention; there are no long paragraphs of exposition to help fill you in.
I do have some nitpicky critiques. One is that Rogers keeps important information from the reader a lot so that she can do a big reveal later, even if the viewpoint character would reasonably know that information (and therefore, so should we.) It gets frustrating after a while and I hope she doesn’t do it in later books. To be fair, this is her debut.
Also, I don’t understand how a lot of things that are in her world could have come to be, and I am taking it on faith that all will eventually be revealed.
I am also amazed that someone who has as many issues as Nash does is still somehow functioning so well. I realize he’s incredibly bright, and has powerful motivation in that any sign of weakness will get him killed, but I know lots of bright mentally ill people, and they just don’t cope that well. I am willing to allow some heroic exceptionalism in my protagonists, however, so it’s not a deal-breaker; especially since Rogers clearly has researched both PTSD and psychosis thoroughly, and does a better job of portraying it than any author, indie or otherwise, I have ever read. (As I’ve said, I know people with these illnesses, and suffer from PTSD myself, so I am, perhaps, a bit more picky about this than many readers would be.)
None of these critiques hurt the enjoyment of the book at all (except, maybe, the too-selective information reveals.) It kept me riveted from start to finish! I chewed through it quickly, and I can’t wait for book 2! Do yourself a favour, cyberpunk and dystopian fans; get this book. Five stars all the way.