Reviewing the second entry in a series, without having read the first volume (in this instance, Social Media Central), is an interesting proposition. There is a story about the characters I’m not across, and that story is likely to have a bearing on this one. I can’t say whether this book flows on directly from it; I can only assess what’s in front of me. While I always endeavour to review books based on their own merits, rather than what came before, and suggest whether they stand on their own merits or require that first entry, in these instances, if the book doesn’t stand on its own, it’ll be apparent. Thankfully, for my own enjoyment—and likely anybody wanting to start with TAYLeR, Book Two—Kevin Klehr’s Virtual Insanity works on its own merits. And it works incredibly well.
From its opening chapter, Virtual Insanity introduces the world and its protagonist, Tayler. It catches the reader up on the events that led to the book’s beginning, though, I can’t say whether it’s catching new readers up on Social Media Central’s plot, or simply setting the scene. The novel’s opening is mysterious, and rather jarring. Again, I can’t say whether this is by design or by virtue of me coming in late, but rather than feeling lost, this mysterious and strange opening jolted me into eagerly reading through to see where it goes. As soon as Tayler conveys his excitement over discovering landline telephones early in the chapter, I found myself excited to explore this brave new world.
Virtual Insanity is set in a future where the world is obsessed with social media, and its populace is far more enamoured with the virtual world than reality, spending as much time within Social Media Central (or SMC as it’s referred to), the world’s futuristic social media network as possible. With our current world’s social media obsession, Virtual Insanity acts as a satire about our world, but it also feels like a possible near future for humankind. Speculative fiction is at its best when it reflects the world around us and speculates about where this might lead, and Virtual Insanity does this with aplomb.
While “Orwellian” is a grossly overused term to describe narratives about dystopian futures, Klehr’s narrative fits the bill. If George Orwell were writing today, well beyond the year 1984, I imagine he would choose similar subject matter (Twenty Fifty-Seven, perhaps?) about the role social media plays in society. In Virtual Insanity’s earlier chapters, the writing also reminded me of Philip K. Dick’s noir approach to cyberpunk. As the book continues, though, Klehr weaves absurdist satire into the narrative, providing some truly laugh out loud moments. Rather than undercutting the story and themes, it creates a heightened reality that the book is all the more engaging for.
At an estimated 176 pages in eBook form (according to my eReader, at least; I don’t have an official estimate, or a page count for the physical book at the time of writing), Virtual Insanity is a brief read that can healthily be read in a couple of sittings. Despite its length, the author has packed a lot of story in. It sees Tayler travelling to Beta City to free its citizens from SMC, fighting a conspiracy at the hands of the shady figure known as the Government, fighting for his life in an augmented reality game, becoming the figurehead for the “counter religion” (compared to entrepreneurship), the Radical Faith Alliance, and a whole lot more. With so much happening within the novel’s pages, it moves at a brisk pace, but never feels like it’s moving too quickly.
While the book is fast and frenetic, it also packs in some delightful characters. The supporting cast is full of characters who are an absolute delight to follow. While Tayler is the protagonist and point of view character, the supporting cast enriches the book’s world. Tayler is a great protagonist who serves as the voice of reason in the social media obsessed reality Virtual Insanity takes place in. He is also bisexual, which I shouldn’t need to highlight, but feel it’s sadly still important to highlight LGBTQI+ inclusion in books, and will be until entertainment media stops lagging behind the society it aims to represent.
Tayler’s sexuality is presented as a facet of his character, and nothing more, which is exactly as it should be. He has dalliances with both male and female characters, and if you’re sensitive about descriptions of sex in books, yes there are very occasional sex scenes. More important than their inclusion, though, is how they are written, and they are written absolutely wonderfully. These convey the sexy times without explicit descriptions or reading like erotica, work as a great showcase for the characters, and fit the freewheeling tone of the rest of the book.
The prose is written in the first person, with Tayler narrating the story. The author uses this to convey an enjoyable, welcoming tone that is easy to follow along with. But most of all, Tayler’s voice is hugely enjoyable. Virtual Insanity is also heavy on dialogue, full of rapid fire exchanges between its characters. The dialogue constantly delights, and each character has their own distinct voice. Reading these interactions is joyous, whether the character is a hero, a villain, somewhere in between, or even an AI.
For anybody who hasn’t read Social Media Central, Virtual Insanity is an easy book to get into, and I imagine for anyone who has read its predecessor, this serves as an entertaining continuation of Tayler’s adventures in this world. It presents a dystopian future flowing on from the world’s obsession with virtual worlds and social media, with some wonderful commentary about our times. But it’s also a rollicking adventure with a wonderful sense of humour. If you enjoy speculative fiction, dystopian worlds, or even just humorous reads, I wholeheartedly recommend this. I also suspect you may also enjoy Social Media Central.
And there was a whole universe of colours I never encountered the last time I wore one of these suits. The heavens were splashed with paint, forever swirling behind a mass of stars. The mothership floated on the horizon, dark and foreboding, making itself the centrepiece of this reimagined landscape.
Now and again, a being would pass, mumbling something while sounding like a talking tuba with limited vocabulary. I knew they were ordinary humans, not gamers, but in this augmented reality world, they strolled around on four tentacles. Saliva dripped from their mouths and made a squelch as it wet hit the ground. Their acned skin glistened, reflecting the palette of the sky.Virtual Insanity: TAYLeR, Book Two, Chapter Eleven
Virtual Insanity: Tayler, Book Two was provided by the author for the purpose of an honest review.
Virtual Insanity will be available in both physical and eBook forms from book retailers, including—but not limited to—Amazon, from 31 August 2022.
You can follow Kevin Klehr online, via:
Note: I do not post scores on reviews on this website, but do post them on my Amazon and Goodreads reviews:
- Amazon – To be posted upon the book’s release