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Review: Virtual Insanity – Kevin Klehr

Virtual Insanity - Kevin Klehr

Genre: Sci-Fi, Dystopian

Reviewer: Ulysses, Paranormal Romance Guild

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About The Book

When Tayler is sent to Beta City to help its citizens disconnect from the all-knowing Social Media Central, he becomes the target of a deadly game.

Augmented reality players wearing head to toe gaming suits believe he is the Enemy Alien, and they shoot to kill. So Tayler is forced to hide in a secret bunker, trapped, with no way to escape this urban nightmare.

And as his friends hatch a plan to get him back home, they find the person toying with Tayler’s life is more AI than human.

The Review

This is a fascinating, well-written sci-fi story about the not-too-distant future. Set, like its author, in Australia, “Virtual Insanity” posits an eerily plausible world in which people have become addicted to their screens, and what we know as daily life has become a kind of virtual life driven by social media. 

Tayler is something of a rebel. We find him in Cradle Edge, a city remarkably unlike Astra City, whence he comes. In Cradle Edge, people have social lives—they go out, they talk, they eat. This doesn’t seem very radical, but apparently it is no longer the Australian norm. Tayler finds this both interesting and comforting. It’s not entirely clear why he’s in Cradle Edge, but it feels like recovery—like healing. Tayler might also be taking a break from two relationships, one with a man and one with a woman. 

Word gets out that Tayler is needed in Beta City—as part of a Life Experience Mob (something that must refer to the first book in this series, which I’ve not read). It seems like Tayler is part of a band of rebellious young people who delight in breaking into everyone’s screen-addiction and trying to restore social interactions in the human world. For someone of my generation, the idea of hippies and “be-ins” came to mind. 

The story gets weirder, and then darker. Beta City is a virtual ghost town—full of people, but people who don’t leave their apartments because everything is ordered online and delivered. 

But it’s deeper than that. I don’t want to spoil anything, but Tayler begins to realize that reality in Beta City has reached a sinister level of dependence on Social Media Central, the global digital presence that has gradually squeezed the life out of daily life. 

As the truth dawns on Tayler and his new-found friend Sage, what began as an adventure begins to look like a desperate scrabble to save his own life and those of the people around him who he has begun to care for. 

Tayler is a bit of a puzzle, and I confess I found it hard to engage with him. I suspect this is intentional on the author’s part, because he has purposely disengaged himself from emotional entanglements, simply to cope with the increasingly awareness of just how far gone his world is. 

Klehr writes Tayler’s story with an unnerving clarity. What makes the sci-fi so frightening is its insidious banality. No invading aliens; no exploding asteroids. There is no pat, happy ending to this book. It’s not a cliffhanger, but a gentle fade-out, with some romantic consolations, suggesting that there’s another chapter yet to come. 

Four stars.

The Reviewer

Ulysses Grant Dietz grew up in Syracuse, New York, where his Leave It to Beaver life was enlivened by his fascination with vampires, from Bela Lugosi to Barnabas Collins. He studied French at Yale, and was trained to be a museum curator at the University of Delaware. A curator since 1980, Ulysses has never stopped writing fiction for the sheer pleasure of it. He created the character of Desmond Beckwith in 1988 as his personal response to Anne Rice’s landmark novels. Alyson Books released his first novel, Desmond, in 1998. Vampire in Suburbia, the sequel to Desmond, is his second novel.

Ulysses lives in suburban New Jersey with his husband of over 41 years and their two almost-grown children.

By the way, the name Ulysses was not his parents’ idea of a joke: he is a great-great grandson of Ulysses S. Grant, and his mother was the President’s last living great-grandchild. Every year on April 27 he gives a speech at Grant’s Tomb in New York City. 

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