Australian science fiction author Corey J White showed he could write science fiction action in his Voidwitch trilogy of novellas (Killing Gravity, Void Black Shadow and Static Ruin). Those novellas were breathless in their pacing – short and sharp and yet anchored by some memorable characters. Repo Virtual, White’s first full length novel, takes some of the skills he showed in the shortened form and shows that he can apply them successfully in a novel.
JD lives in Neo-Songdo, a coastal Korean city close to Seoul, sometime in the near future. He works as a robot repairer but makes his money as a repo-man in the worlds largest on-line multiplayer game Voidwars, owned by the massive Zero Corporation. JD has a bit of a criminal past, which has left him with a gammy knee and is pulled right back in by his step sibling who tempts him to participate in “one last job” a heist which will net him enough money to have his knee fixed and set his mother up in a new apartment. The job involves stealing from the dying head of Zero Corporation on behalf a charismatic spiritual cult leader called Kali.
The first half of the novel is the heist. Getting the team together, starting to plan it all out and then having to go earlier than planned to time the job with the Soccer World Cup final. While nothing goes exactly as planned, JD gets away. But that is actually when the story really begins as JD keeps the prize for himself and tries to use it to blackmail Kali for more money. The second half of the book introduces Enda, an operative hired by a Zero executive to find the stolen item, while Kali sends teams of violent, trigger happy youths out to track JD down. Meanwhile the object that JD has stolen, a small data cube, turns out to have a mind of its own.
Repo Virtual is almost a classic cyberpunk tale – band of street punks with computer skills who like spending time in virtual space take on a giant corporation with a nascent artificial intelligence thrown in. Readers familiar with the genre will easily pick homages to classics like Blade Runner, Neuromancer and Snowcrash. But clearly, fascination with the subgenre has not gone away with one of the most anticipated video games of 2020 being a title called Cyberpunk 2077. And while he leans heavily on these traditions, White reshapes them to his own ends. His future-Korean setting is believable, as is its technology . And as already noted, White has a flair for writing action that comes through strongly here.
Repo Virtual, shows Corey J White taking some classic science fiction tropes and making them his own. He clearly shows a capacity to move to long form storytelling with believable, engaging characters and a propulsive story that manages to pause for breath but never flags. The Coda clearly marks this as a stand-alone novel, another breath of fresh air in a market filled with prequels and sequels and leaving an intriguing question mark as to what White will tackle next.