Addict is a cyberpunk tale about a Chinese-Canadian detective living in a corrupt near-future city. What made this fun to write was that the near future setting made it so easy to experiment with different concepts based around where our modern technology could end up. Knowing that I wanted a dingy L.A. Confidential meets Blade Runner feel for the book too meant that I could put plenty of focus on the potentially negative side of this technological growth too. Today, I want to talk about one of the most important concepts in the book: the growth of online business and how this ties in with the addiction mentioned in the title.
A lot of this stems from the growth in popularity of VR headsets. Items like the Oculus Rift and Sony VR have been in production for a while, and now that they’re on the market, they’re taking off far more than many imagined. When you look at the visual quality of games such as Resident Evil 7 though, it’s easy to see why: modern VR is immersive. This isn’t a poor looking imitation of life, but something that’s jumped a few steps closer to Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Holodeck in terms of realism. But how does that effect businesses? Well, Mamoru Hosoda’s animated masterpiece Summer Wars touches on this. Therein is the world of OZ, a computer-generated plane where everything from social interactions to missile launch code are accessible. Users simply log on with their avatar and off they go. It’s not that big a step to think that we will see similar systems one day, though likely with a focus on the headset technology that’s been gaining such strong momentum.
The question is, if businesses were to adopt such a system, what would that mean for people working within this environment? That was an important question for me to consider because I knew from the get-go that I wanted my victim to be someone who had died as a VR addict. The easiest way to approach that seemed to be to start from the view of a high-end business and work backwards to the darker side. And so, I started to think about the differences between working in physical and virtual environments. From the standpoint of physical exertion, I do believe that the right working conditions would mean that longer shifts would be justifiable from a HR standpoint when working in a virtual environment. I know that sounds strange, there are certainly downsides to extended computer use after all, but picture this: your bosses provide you with ridiculously comfortable chairs and top quality headsets that work by sensitively reading subtle movements and brain patterns rather than requiring rapid keyboard, mouse or control pad use. Sounds pretty cool, right? What if I added that all the time that you’re in this immersive world, you aren’t allowed to take a break, but are instead drip-fed and given constant round the clock care? Not only that, but your shifts last a full week, maybe longer. Sure, that’s a bit more harrowing to picture, but on the plus side, the private healthcare, the pay, and the long breaks between shifts balance out the time that you’re missing out on.
Here’s the thing with that system though. As a species, we are prone to addiction. People can be addicted to foods, drugs, or even activities. So, what would happen if someone was to be placed in a position where they were working in a virtual environment for an extended period? Well, it’s not inconceivable to think that users made gain a degree of dependency upon the VR experience. If you’re lucky enough to have all these perks, then of course you’d be given the assistance to balance out this new desire with reality, but office workers wouldn’t be the only people to use it. The whole system is, at its base level, a souped-up advancement of the internet. And who has access to the internet? Theoretically, most people. If you don’t have the best equipment, the 24/7 support and the aftercare though, there’s no one there to help you balance your life. And therein lies the problem. Both office workers and outside users will be likely to become addicted, but only one group will have the necessary support network to ensure that this doesn’t become a problem. And so, the two classifications of Virtual Junkies that I use in the book were born: VJ Pros – those who make a living in the environment, and VJ Addicts – those who are simply addicted without the positives outcomes.
Next, I needed to consider how people would potentially die in this position. In particular, I needed something that could happen quickly, as otherwise it would be clear if a person was a WJ Addict that was slowly slipping away. They may push family friends away, but the signs that are there may well be enough to pull people back and try to help them. That’s when I realised something: VR is now fully immersive on a visual level, but it lacks something: certain other senses, in particular touch. As a tactile race, this lack of being able to feel within the virtual environments creates a disconnect. While a business may help their staff use that as a means to keep from having issues, a VJ Addict won’t have that luxury. So, how would they placate that desire? By increasing the experience with illegal stimulants. The simple use of drugs that have a hallucinogenic quality would add to the experience for those that are already hooked. But then, that brings with it two clear risks: double addiction, and an overdose.
And so, the victim’s fate was decided. In a world heavily reliant on tech, Eddie Redwood was simply another poor soul that had the same sob story as so many before him; he was VJ Addict who accidentally overdosed. But then, this is supposed to be L.A. Confidential meets Blade Runner, isn’t it? There are mysteries to be solved, and dark roads to travel. Sure, Eddie’s fate is the underlying concept, but maybe things aren’t as clean-cut as they appear?
Series: The Cassie Tam Files, book 1
Author: Matt Doyle
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: May 8, 2017
Heat Level: 1 – No Sex
Genre: science fiction, Sci-fi, futuristic, addiction, friends to lovers, private detective, lesbian
New Hopeland was built to be the centre of the technological age, but like everywhere else, it has its dark side. Assassins, drug dealers and crooked businessmen form a vital part of the city’s make-up, and sometimes, the police are in too deep themselves to be effective. But hey, there are always other options …
For P.I. Cassie Tam, business has been slow. So, when she’s hired to investigate the death of a local VR addict named Eddie Redwood, she thinks it’ll be easy money. All she has to do is prove to the deceased’s sister Lori that the local P.D. were right to call it an accidental overdose. The more she digs though, the more things don’t seem to sit right, and soon, Cassie finds herself knee deep in a murder investigation. But that’s just the start of her problems.
When the case forces Cassie to make contact with her drug dealing ex-girlfriend, Charlie Goldman, she’s left with a whole lot of long buried personal issues to deal with. Then there’s her client. Lori Redwood is a Tech Shifter, someone who uses a metal exoskeleton to roleplay as an animal. Cassie isn’t one to judge, but the Tech Shifting community has always left her a bit nervous. That wouldn’t be a problem if Lori wasn’t fast becoming the first person that she’s been genuinely attracted to since splitting with Charlie. Oh, and then there’s the small matter of the police wanting her to back off the case.
Easy money, huh? Yeah, right.
Matt Doyle © 2017
All Rights Reserved
I always did like Venetian blinds. There’s something quaint about them in a retro-tacky kinda way. Plus, they’re pretty useful for sneaking a peek out the front of the building if I feel the need. That’s something that you just can’t do with the solid, immovable metal slats that come as a standard in buildings these days. That said, a thick sheet of steel is gonna offer you a damn sight more security than thin, bendable vinyl, so I keep mine installed. Just in case.
Another round of knocking rattles the front door, louder this time than the one that woke me.
The clock says 23:47, and the unfamiliar low-end car out front screams “Don’t notice me, I’m not worth your time,” which makes for the perfect combo to stir up the paranoia that the evening’s beer and horror-film session left behind. This is my own fault. My adverts are pretty descriptive in terms of telling what I do: lost pets, cheating partners, theft, protection, retrieval of people and items, other odds and sods that the city’s finest won’t touch…I’ve got ways to deal with it all. That’s right, I’m a real odd-job gal. The one thing that I don’t put in there are business hours. The way I see it, even the missing pet cases usually leave me wandering the streets at half-past reasonable, so what’s the point in asking people to call between certain hours?
More knocking, followed this time by the squeak of my letter box and a voice. “Hello? Cassandra Tam?”
It’s funny, really. For all the tech advances that the world has made, no one has been able to improve upon the simple open-and-shut letter box. I stumble my way through the dark and wave dismissively at the frosted glass. The light switch and the keypad for the door lock are conveniently placed right next to each other on the wall to the right of the door, so welcoming my apparent guest is a nice, easy affair. The lock clicks a moment after the lights flood the room, and I pull the door open.
“Cassie,” I say, turning and skulking my way back into the room. “Or Caz. Drop the Tam.”
I hear a sniff behind me, and the lady from the letter box asks, “Are you drunk?”
“If I pass out in the next five minutes, then yes,” I reply, turning the kettle on. I’d left it full, ready for the morning, but I guess this is close enough. “Take a seat at the table. Would you prefer tea or coffee? I’d offer beer, but since I reek of it, I guess I must’ve finished it.”
Footsteps creep unapologetically across the room, and a chair squeaks on the floor. Good. If you can’t deal with a snarky response to something, don’t say it all, and if you can deal with it, then as far as I’m concerned you don’t need to apologise.
“Coffee,” the lady says. “So, do you always see potential clients in your underwear, or is it just my lucky day?” Her voice has a slightly playful edge to it, but with a sarcastic kick to round it off.
The business portion of my apartment comprises entirely of a small open-plan room separating my kitchen from my living room. And by open plan, I mean an allotted space that encroaches on both territories but is conveniently large enough to house what I need. Or, in other words, a table, four chairs, and nothing else. Since filing went near entirely digital, filing cabinets have pretty much become obsolete, so the two that I found dumped outside the building when I bought the place currently live in my bedroom, and contain a mix of quick access work stuff and personal files I’d rather not have floating on the net. Most things, though, I store electronically, the same as everything else.
I rarely use the business table to eat, read, or any of that junk, so until this evening it’s been entirely empty for a good few weeks. The lady sitting there now is studying me, I can see, and probably wondering if this was a mistake. Whatever she may have expected, a Chinese-Canadian gal of average height in a cami top and a loose pair of sleep shorts most likely wasn’t it. For what it’s worth, though, I’m studying her just the same. She’s a lithe-looking thing, dressed in a casual pair of jeans and a plain black fitted top under a leather jacket. If the metal plugs running down her shaven head like a shiny, rubber-tipped Mohawk weren’t a giveaway for what she is, the light scarring punctuating the outer edges of her pale blue eyes certainly would be. She’s a Tech Shifter, and like most of her ilk, she looks like a punk rocker gone cyborg.
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Matt Doyle lives in the South East of England and shares his home with a wide variety of people and animals, as well as a fine selection of teas. He has spent his life chasing dreams, a habit which has seen him gain success in a great number of fields. To date, this has included spending ten years as a professional wrestler, completing a range of cosplay projects, and publishing multiple works of fiction.
These days, Matt can be found working on far too many novels at once, blogging about anime, comics, and games, and plotting and planning what other things he’ll be doing to take up what little free time he has.
5/8 – Queer Sci Fi
5/9 – Oh My Shelves
5/10 – Booklover Sue
5/11 – The Novel Approach
5/12 – love bytes reviews