Book Review: Bluescreen

Bluescreen is the first book in the Mirador series written by Dan Wells. It’s set in 2050 Los Angeles, which is now so huge it spreads across the border into Mexico. This is a world where almost everyone has a djinni, a smart device implanted into your head that is basically a smart phone on steroids. The main character is Marisa Carnesca, who lives in Mirador, a small neighborhood in LA, where her parents run a restaurant. In her spare time, she plays Overworld and hacks into secure servers. However, trouble soon begins as she is introduced to Bluescreen, a digital drug that creates a sensory overload which causes a high before crashing the djinni and sending the user into a brief comma before the system reboots. There is more to it than meets the eye with Bluescreen, and soon Marisa finds herself entangled in a gang war, the dark web and a huge conspiracy that she’s not prepared for.

Dan Wells is one fourth of the Writing Excuses crew. Mirador is the second series I’ve read from him, the other being the Partials Sequence. He’s actually most popular for the John Wayne Cleaver series, but I haven’t got to those yet, mainly because they’re horror fiction.

The Good

The world in Mirador is a very interesting one. It’s cyberpunk through and through. High tech low life. The government in Mirador (a district in LA) is pretty nonexistent and the city is controlled by the Maldonaldos. A family of rich mafia types. Maldonaldo keeps the security in the town with Enforcers, basically private military thugs who acts as the police in the town. As long as you pay them money, they’ll keep you safe.

The tech side of the world is also interesting. Nulis, a type of floating robot, has basically replace human labor. There’s the aforementioned djinnis plugged into most people’s head. And it’s really used creatively too. For example, when you walk pass a shop, your djinni is scanned and the shop window will show you products that you would like or send a pop up to your djinni. The world is also pretty much a cultural mix. For example, the Carnesca’s restaurant San Juanito, sells Loh Mien.

The characters are pretty varied too. Marisa is part of a semi pro gaming team called Cherry Dogs. Her teammates include Sahara, who’s basically a 24/7 vlogger/streamer and Anja, the daughter of a big shot at a huge corporation. Jaya and Fang aren’t really touched upon, but mainly because they’re in India and China respectively. There’s also Omar, who is the son of the Maldonaldos, Saif, a Bluescreen dealer and Bao, Marisa’s friend who refuse to get a djinni.

The plot also kept me engaged throughout the book. I kept making guesses, suspecting characters of being a traitor as the story moves along. I never guessed the twist and turns until it almost happens. I was usually just one step or two behind.

The Bad

If there’s one major issue I have with the book is the lack of character arcs. Literally everyone in the book stayed the same from start to finish. Zero changes. Okay, maybe some slight changes but not really noticeable ones unless I really, really look into it. One issue with this might be the sheer number of important characters for such a short book. I get the sense that we’re gearing up for a series, but I just wish they were better fleshed out.

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German Cover

Marisa herself is not a really compelling protagonist. She does things way too… haphazardly for my taste. She’s too headstrong in a sense, doesn’t really pay any heed to the other people. Kinda reminds me of Kira from Partials too. Oh yeah, and she curses with “Miercoles”. Ya, Wednesday. Sure, it’s close to “mierda”, but still…

The book definitely has a slower start and there’s certainly a lot of info dump in the earlier chapters. I mean, I get that it’s cool that Los Angeles is bigger than Connecticut, but do we really need do know that? But most of it is really worth it though, it really paints the picture fairly well for the rest of the book. I didn’t even realize it was cyberpunk when I started it but it really reminded me of the Shadowrun world.

Others

By the way, what’s the difference between cyberpunk and sci fi dystopia? Is it safe to say that cyberpunk is a subgenre within sci fi dystopia? There’s certainly similarities, but I don’t think that one is necessarily a subgenre of the other. I think cyberpunk focuses a lot on the low life. Street crime is rampant and most of the time rich megacorporations control the world. This doesn’t always mean that it’s a dystopia though. At least not in the current trend of rise up against the government kind of dystopia. The root word of “not-good place” is certainly apt for cyberpunk worlds. What do you think? What’s the difference between cyberpunk and sci fi dystopia?

The future of the series is really unclear. In the acknowledgements, Wells says that he wants it to be a long series. So definitely not just a trilogy. I can see a whole lot of things to play with in the Mirador universe. And certainly the ending of the book pointed out as much. I really hope to see more of the world.

There’s also an episode on Writing Excuses where Dan talks about consulting someone about the fashion of Mirador. I’ve read some reviews which were critical of the overdescriptive clothing, but I found them a fun, worldbuilding aspect of the book.

Verdict

Excellent world and engaging plotline but ultimately lacking in the area of character development.

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