Cash Crash Jubilee: Book One of the Jubilee Cycle by Eli K.P. William
Genre: Adult science fiction
Publisher: Talos Press
Release date: May 2015
Source: Finished hardcover from publisher
The nitty-gritty: A dense and detailed future world that challenged my reading skills, but ultimately rewarded me with a gripping and emotional story.
Twilight was beginning to edge towards night outside the café. The InfoSky reflection on the street had taken on a pale brightness. Half-formed faces, silhouetted landscapes, and indistinct bundles of color now flitted fluidly about like glimpses of a dream montage through a silk veil. The kimonoed mamas were gone; in their place were the hostesses who worked for them. Like the mamas, they carried multiple purses and shopping bags, but their hair was done up in a heap of curls resembling an intricate hedge of lustrous gift ribbons. They wore stilettos, and dresses with slits that exposed fishnetted thighs and shapely breasts, their chalk-white skin and blush-red cheeks floating in the Tokyo night like molten moons approaching the end of time.
Imagine a world where you can disguise all your flaws with a program called “digimake”—hide wrinkles and zits, change your hair color and clothes, and even redesign the shape of your face—all by activating software that makes you beautiful and perfect. Imagine having all your text messages and emails come directly to your brain, and imagine being able to download a spam program called SpamFortress which keeps millions of spam messages from coming though. Now imagine that your every action is being internally recorded, and you can access that “LifeStream” whenever you want to double-check your actions. Welcome to Eli K.P. William’s world, where nothing is secret and every action you perform is scrutinized.
I was initially drawn to Cash Crash Jubilee because of the wonderful cover: a crazy, colorful, rain-drenched cityscape that promised an interesting story. And kudos to cover designer Sean Jun who perfectly captured the tone of this book. William’s debut is not without its faults (which I’ll go into later), but wow, does this guy have one crazy imagination! What started out as a slow-moving story morphed into an eerie and suspenseful vision of a future that is completely believable. The more I read, the deeper I became entrenched in William’s world, and at some point during the story it was impossible to stop reading.
In a future Tokyo, citizens are fitted with BodyBanks, a type of implanted software that not only monitors your every blink, swallow, and step, but instantly withdraws an appropriate amount of money for each and every action you make. Amon works for the Global Action Transaction Authority as an Identity Executioner, and his job is to monitor individuals who are nearing bankruptcy status. When bankruptcy is imminent, it is Amon’s duty, along with his partner Rick, to track down the individual and “cash crash” them, removing their BodyBank forever and sentencing them to a life of squalor in the District of Dreams.
Amon’s predictable days flow endlessly together, except for a very strange recurring dream, in which he finds himself inside a beautiful forest. Which is odd, because as far as Amon knows, all of Earth’s forests have been cut down.
But one day as Amon is going about his business as normal, he notices he has just been charged an unheard of amount for an action he didn’t do, called a “jubilee.” Realizing that he is almost bankrupt himself, Amon sets out to discover who might be responsible for this horrible mistake. His search leads him deep into a conspiracy within GATA, where several high-profile figures have also been cash crashed for suspicious reasons. With his friend Mayuko by his side, Amon finds himself on the run, trying to stay one step ahead of the men who are out to ruin him. And what the hell is a “jubilee” anyway??
It took me quite a long time to read Cash Crash Jubilee, nearly three weeks, which is very unusual for me. But here’s why, and it’s the main reason this book might turn readers off. Although William has imagined a unique and terrifying vision of the future that is lovingly and painstakingly detailed, it’s sometimes just too much. I hate to use the word “info dump,” but this book has pages and pages of it. After reading the first fifty pages with nary a plot in sight, I had to take a break and read something else. This book could have been at least fifty pages shorter and it would have worked just as well, if not better. William loves his world, and he wants us to love it too. And don’t get me wrong—I did love it. But it took some slogging through long, detailed paragraphs before everything coalesced into something quite wonderful.
One of the best things about Cash Crash Jubilee, in addition to the world building, is the way Amon’s character grows. He starts as a tightly wound, by-the-book man whose goal in life is to climb the corporate ladder as high as he can, to someone who realizes that the company he idolizes is corrupt. Little by little we see Amon’s attitude change as he goes through confusion, denial, and finally anger that his entire life has been a scam. Every decision he’s ever made is now undercut by the fact that all those decisions have been a waste of time. I loved the way he changed from someone who never swears (because swear words cost more!) to a man who is so angry and desperate that he forgets how much it costs to swear. He was a very human character who reacted in very human ways when his way of life was threatened.
The author pokes fun at our society’s ever growing dependence on the digital world. Even today many people bemoan the fact that smart phones are turning our society into a bunch of solitary individuals who never communicate face to face anymore. William takes that even further by plunging his characters into a world where speaking out loud costs so much money, that many people have simply stopped doing it, and the only communication they have with others is texting. Despite the millions of people living in Tokyo, Cash Crash Jubilee is full of lonely people, and I felt Amon’s separation keenly.
The basic plot reminded me of Logan’s Run (I’m reaching way back for that one, folks! If you haven’t seen the cheesy, sexist movie version of the book, you’re really missing out): an upstanding, normal citizen in a future with strict rules discovers he’s become a target and is forced to abandon his familiar life in order to survive. The plot is familiar, but the way William executes it isn’t. And here’s where I think all the info-dumping actually worked for me. By the time you’ve read 200 pages of intricate descriptions of Amon’s world—how much it costs each time he blinks, for example—you’re so invested in his life, that when that life starts to crumble, you realize you really like the guy, and you’re rooting for him to come out on top.
The story ends on a cliffhanger, and I cannot wait to see what happens next. I’m looking forward to finding out more about Amon’s dream forest, as well as the mysterious District of Dreams. Fans of William Gibson and Philip K. Dick will have a blast with Cash Crash Jubilee, as will any reader who appreciates unique world building and attention to detail.
Big thanks to Talos Press for supplying a review copy!
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