Book Review: Cyber Mage by Saad Z. Hossain
Book links: Amazon, Goodreads
About Saad: Saad Z. Hossain writes in a niche genre of fantasy, science fiction and black comedy with an action-adventure twist. He is the author of Escape from Baghdad! and Djinn City.
OVERVIEW: Cyber Mage is hilarious*, fast-paced, and thoroughly entertaining. It mixes sci-fi and fantasy with mythology, bio-engineering, and climate fiction to create a fresh vision of the future.
Nations around the world have adopted corporate structure and identity. Automated industrial and food production combined with the widespread use of AI have made the traditional working-class obsolete. All useful (wealthy) citizens have shares (voting stock) in the corporations they inhabit. Non-shareholders had to leave the premises and perish or live in ghettos. Only cities survived this change. Countries did not.
Nanotech fills human bodies and keeps them healthy and free of disease. Virtuality became more important than reality; data affects everything - controlling 99% of the world, including climate control systems, food production, and more.
Murzak - a snarky teenager emancipated from his parents - is a brilliant hacker known as Cyber Mage. Online, he is a legend and second to none. Working for the Russian crime syndicate made him independent, but did not prepare him for the biggest challenge yet - going to school in real life to get the girl. Things get even more complicated when he discovers a feral AI operating on the Dark Web.
Everything shows he’ll need the help of Djibril - a madman who walks the streets of Dhaka chopping off the heads of his enemies. Yep. Djibril does not take prisoners, but he does take their heads (and carries them with him).
Hossain is a skilled storyteller with an excellent imagination and a knack for characterization. We learn a lot about the richly imagined Djinn Universe, but none of it detracts from the main story; it makes it better and gives context to events. Sure, the sheer amount of cool concepts (AIs suffering from insecurities, djinn-human hybrids, pocket universes closed in a jar) packed into a medium-length novel may overwhelm, but Hossain makes them easy to digest.
The story has plenty of action and adventure, but also darkly comic moments that stay in tune with the story. He lets the characters have some fun; dialogues feel as if the author let the conversation off the leash to see what would happen. Since the main protagonist is a sixteen-year-old boy, expect foul language and geeky jokes. The darker sense of humor will not appeal to everyone, but it’s never offensive or mean, rather strongly worded, biting, and sharp. Here is one of the lighter examples, appearing after one of Murzak’s conversations with his parents.
“Oldies always pretended there was useful shit they knew, but did they? What was it then? How to fuck up the ecosphere? How to create rampant nanotech and ruin a perfectly good planet?”
Cyber Mage ties with Hossain’s other books and short stories. It happens in the same world and features some characters known from his other works (like Karma, Indelber, or Matteras) but isn’t a direct sequel to any of them.
I had a blast reading this madcap story and I appreciate both the plot and sharp satire it delivers. I found the humor well-played and the characters interesting. Highly recommended!
* as long as you’re ok with inappropriate humor, that is.