Armed Memory by Jim Young
246 pages, 1996, TOR Books, $5.99
Review score: **1/2 out of *****

The silicone enhanced breasts, calf implants and steroid pumped muscles of today become the bio-enhanced razor girls and muscle boys in the gritty future of William Gibson's Neuromancer. In Jim Young's new novel Armed Memory the bio-engineered viruses of our time, that have been used with only limited success to cure genetic diseases, become something much more in 2033 AD. In this era, a driven, brilliant college drop out named Johnny Stevens takes medical virus technology and offers people the chance to transform their bodies. Skin color can be changed, height can be alterned, people can become the image of Marilyn Monroe or Elvis. Human form becomes mutable, the clay for all forms of vanity, self expression and kink. All it takes is the right design, delivered by an engineered virus that will transform all the cells in the body.

Bright people, especially in computer science, tend to have a division between the brain and the body. They tend to live in their heads, the body is just there to support the mind. A lot of science fiction follows this divide. The body many be drastically modified, but the mind remains. Gibson's characters may be enhanced to the point where they are almost cyborgs, but their minds remain more or less unchanged. What Jim Young reminds us of in Armed Memory is that the body and the mind are a whole. The body cannot be drastically modified without modifying the mind. The brain is just another part of the body. In Armed Memory, the genetic engineering technology that is used by Johnny Stevens to reshape the human form for cosmetic purposes has been appropriated by a Yukuza like crime syndicate, the Hammerhead Kieritsu. The Hammerhead labs have worked on genetic engineering for their own ends and when Johnny Stevens makes a breakthrough, they kidnapped one of his top scientists. The Hammerheads use their genetic engineering technology to transform humans into sharks. This transformation not only changes the body, but also changes the mind. Like the Thugee cult, the Hammerhead organization is driven by mysticism. They are ruled by the "great ones", humans who have gone far down the path of transformation and now live in the sea as great sharks.

Johnny Stevens is outraged that the Hammerheads have stolen his technology and is horrified at the uses they have put it to. Stevens makes stopping the Hammerheads a vendetta. The story of the war between Stevens, his company, Microde City, and the Hammerhead organization is told in Armed Memory by several interrelated characters. Each character in Armed Memory plays their part on stage as they weave in and out of the story. But in many cases we see only the surface of an interesting character. Glimpses of motivation are provided, but sometimes just enough to leave a hunger for more detail. I look forward to reading Jim Young's next book.

Ian Kaplan - 6/96

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