Plastic Jesus by Wayne Simmons
Genre: Adult Science Fiction
Publisher: Salt Publishing
Release date: December 1 2013
Source: eARC from publisher
In a word: A futuristic city on the brink of collapse, full of dangerous and broken characters, and perfectly honed writing that paints a gloomy, yet hopeful, vision of the future.
He walked to her, and her eyes remained focused on whatever spot they had found. He reached for her, but she had nothing for him. Nothing save that cold and dry stare, a deep chasm of blue or black; a colour indescribable, indecipherable.
He was holding her shoulders, now. They felt brittle, like ice, and he was worried that even by pressing his hands against them that he might break her. Or break her more.
He let go of her and she drifted away from him, down the hallway and out the front door.
This is the second book I’ve read from the small UK-based Salt Publishing, and I’m very impressed with the high quality of writing and story-telling I’ve seen from them so far. Wayne Simmons has quite a few books under his belt, but this is his first foray into science fiction. You may recognize him as the author of Doll Parts, Flu and Fever, which are all horror stories. Plastic Jesus is set in an unspecified future, after a Holy War has changed the face of the world as we know it. Simmons takes the idea of a future where religion has died, but one man has a vision to reinvent Jesus and capitalize on his come-back. Plastic Jesus reminded me of the moodiness of Blade Runner and the drug-fueled plot and stylistic writing of Jeff Noon’s Vurt, but with a unique quality all its own. Dangerous and atmospheric, Plastic Jesus is a futuristic thrill ride with unexpected heart.
Johnny Lyon is a coder for Alt, a company that provides hydropower to Lark City. But Johnny’s wife Becky has just died, and he’s taking some time off work. His boss, a man named Garcon, has a brilliant idea and needs Johnny to come back to work: he wants to create a virtual reality Jesus and stage a resurrection, and he wants Johnny to write the code. Johnny agrees to do it, but things don’t go quite the way he expects. As Johnny writes the program and tries not to think about his wife, the denizens of Lark City go about their sordid business, including the Reverend Harold Shepherd whose church is the last one in the city, a cop named Rudlow who is trying, and failing, to shut down the illegal drug trade, and the drug lord himself, Paul McBride, a nasty character who rules Lark City and is feared by just about everyone.
Plastic Jesus is written in short chapters that at first seem to jump around as Simmons introduces his large cast of characters, but then slowly take shape when the reader realizes that all these characters are connected in one way or another. His writing is precise and as sharp as the blade that McBride uses on one of his victims. The people in Plastic Jesus are mostly unhappy, and many of them are either drug addicts or “wireheads” who link directly into the world of VR to escape their miserable lives. I loved the small details of the not-too-far-in-the-future technology, like cell phones that sync to each other when you step into a room, and the use of hydropower in lieu of electricity (fossil fuels are gone). On the surface this is science fiction, but it’s also a gritty crime story populated by prostitutes, drunks, drug dealers and thieves. I loved the way this story felt both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time, which I’ll admit made me feel uneasy while reading it.
Simmons brings his characters to life with very little effort. In just a few words he makes you hate McBride, a violent and controlling man who was one of the most terrifying characters I’ve ever run across. McBride’s daughter Kitty is a very young girl who is always strung out on drugs but shows her vulnerable side by attending church. And Johnny simply wants to forget the pain of losing his wife and make his boss happy by finishing the VR Jesus on time. Nearly every character in the story is trying to forget something horrible from their past, but not all of them are succeeding.
It may seem as if Plastic Jesus is nothing but despair and pain, but the author gives some of his characters short glimpses of hope. I was worried at first that there were too many characters to keep the plot from falling apart, but Simmons manages to tie up all the dangling story lines in the end. One such story line with Johnny and an unopened email, which the author carried throughout the entire book, finally resolved into an emotional punch that gave me goosebumps. Wayne Simmons is definitely a writer to watch, and I can’t wait to read his next book. Violent and shocking, but filled with hidden pockets of humanity and heart, Plastic Jesus is highly recommended.
Many thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.
You can find Plastic Jesus here: