Tricia Sullivan, Someone To Watch Over Me (Bantam Spectra, 1997)

On only the second page of this novel the main protagonist, Adrian Reyes, sees a fellow passenger on a train, a kid he effortlessly classes as a "bootleg wire-seller." This phrase identifies the novel to be science fiction and signals that the action will occur on the other side of some metaphorical membrane separating your reality from that of the novel's. If you're someone who doesn't read science fiction, you'll probably stop on page 2, refusing to go further, refusing to let the author take you across to a world where you will almost immediately meet ax payment cards, HIT, Watchers and the Deep. All this may sound either overwhelming or passe, depending on how often (if ever) you have previously allowed prose to transport you past that membrane. To the initiate traveler some words of encouragement -- be not afraid, in Trisha Sullivan you have a skillful guide to this strange near-future land; to the seasoned traveler -- if you think you've seen it all, don't get cocky, this one will quicken your pulse.

Adrian is a trans, someone whose mind is linked to that of another person, his Watcher. The link is mediated through HIT (Human Interface Technology) which requires the trans to carry a brain implant, which allows for satellite uploads to the Watcher. The link thus formed is an empathetic one so that Watchers experience both the physical and emotional life of the trans. A Watcher becomes the ultimate audience to the trans performance and at first Adrian finds that the experience gives meaning and direction to his life.

But we meet him when his life is unraveling. Although an expert in martial arts, he is caught and tortured while on a mission for his Watcher, C, to buy illicit HIT. His torturer is Max Niagarin, representing the Deep, a shadowy amalgam of minds spawned by users of HIT. Bleeding and limping on the streets of Zagreb, Adrian is by chance rescued by Sabina, a musician he mistakes for a cab driver. It turns out that the piece of HIT that C sent him to obtain was no ordinary piece of "plant" and that the stakes of the game are very high indeed. C is a creepy presence throughout the novel and the only one, significantly, granted a first-person narrative.

This novel, though a fast-paced thriller containing some cinematically graphic action, is ultimately sustained by its successful invocation in the reader's imagination of what it might be like to have someone share your mind. For instance, Adrian, disillusioned and wanting out of being a trans, can feel C within him "like a moth beating its wings within a jar." The working of the human mind may be beyond words but this novel contains some lyrical descriptions, as when C says of Adrian that "I have left footprints on his soul."

Adrian finally does get free of C and you are made feel the release; equally when Max and C "headrape" Sabina, forcing over time the merging of two minds -- one aggressive and assured, the other defensive and panicked -- you feel they have perpetrated something real and terrible upon her. It is from this empathy that your appreciation of the Deep, its concept and its potential, derives. Such appreciation is essential in order to fully savor the poignancy of the ending, and is also well worth cultivating because the Deep is an original and intriguing concept. The poignancy relates mostly to the love story. Oh, did I mention the love story? You see -- oh, just read this book.

[ by Conor O'Connor ]

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