Friday, November 17, 2023

Book Review: Mind Burn by Rhett C. Bruno and T. E. Bakutis

Cowan Soto, a rookie detective in the Cybercrimes Investigation Department, is assigned to help Jeb Forrester investigate the first mass shooting in years. In a future world where a mega corporation makes the rules and enforces them using PBAs installed inside human brains, in the purported utopia devoid of crimes and wars, where every imaginable pleasure is just a log in away, Cowan has to track an invader who corrupts systems to his advantage, who is capable of breaking inside human minds, turning them into puppets, and making them commit any crime. But Soto has another agenda—a secret from his past—that makes this mission personal.

Mind Burn is the latest science fiction novel written by Rhett C. Bruno and T. E. Bakutis that introduces us to an utopian future that uses mind control to establish balance. Anyone who tries to topple it will have their mind burned, making them forget their past and become a totally new person. I received an advance copy from the publisher, Blackstone Publishing, through Netgalley for feedback.

The writers have painstakingly constructed an utopian future in this novel that is seemingly plausible, though alien enough due to technological advances. The novel does a great job of describing the advanced ways in which its world works. Contrary to many other utopian novels, this is not a perfect world. It still reels from the violent ways of its past, tries hard to be perfect, but contains many imperfections and loopholes in it, thereby offering enough leeway for the protagonist and the antagonist to brawl against each other.

Most of the action happens at different levels, through which the characters glide in and out. Meatspace is our normal, physical plane. A PBA that is installed inside the brain can filter out any bad sensations, like smell or any gruesome sights, and also modify the emotional responses. It prohibits acts of violence above an acceptable level. But there is a grey market where corrupted PBA can be bought and installed by grey doctors. Sim is a simulation plane equivalent to our metaverse that can be accessed with avatars. There is an alternate Dark Sim that is equivalent to the Dark Net, where illegal activities happen.

Along with narrating an intense thriller, the novel also poses several pertinent questions concerning free will, balance, individuality, the accumulation of power, and unregulated consumption. Every character fears the punishment of mind burn, where you forget your past and your personality is entirely changed, thereby making you a totally different person. It is a paradoxical thought when you consider that instead of being punished with bodily harm, you are given a second chance for your crimes, and why should someone fear that?

The writers use a third-person narrative style from several characters' points of view. It served the fast-paced story very well and made me well aware of the complex plot from different angles. But my personal choice would have been a first-person narrative from Cowan's perspective, which could elevate the plot as he is a complex protagonist with several internal conflicts and alternating loyalties. Most of the other characters were well situated in the narrative but eventually single-noted and existed only for plot convenience.

Overall, I loved Mind Burn, a detailed science fictional novel with a complex protagonist and a racy plot that introduces its readers to a scarily plausible utopian future and makes them ponder some germane existential conundrums.

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