I love a good cyberpunk tale. This form of speculative fiction can do a wonderful job of looking into our current world and extrapolating a potential future we’re all heading towards. Endgame, by Steve Shahbazian, is a good cyberpunk tale. It is also one that moves past the genre’s tropes to look examine philosophy, what makes us human, physical and metaphysical realities, and humanity’s relationship religion (a story blending science fiction, religion and philosophy isn’t something you see every day, but ironically, I’m reviewing two books in a row that do just that. If this is your thing, check back next week). Framed around mysteries and conspiracies and fears that the end truly is nigh, Endgame offers a lot for the reader to chew on.
Upon starting Endgame, two things stood out to me. The first was the language, with profanities peppered throughout the text, both in the prose, and in the characters’ dialogue. While initially, it feels a little heavy-handed, the book is at its most profane during the opening scene, although it still peppers in a liberal amount of swear words throughout its remainder. I’m not opposed to using bad language in books, and throughout the novel, this is in the context of its world and characters. It’s a novel geared at adult readers, but if you’re sensitive to this language, you may wish to take note. The second thing that stood out to me is how much it reads like a hardboiled detective noir. It turns the trope on its head by quickly establishing its protagonist as a young female, rather than an ageing male, an archetype generally used for the femme fatale, but it conjures immediate imagery in the reader’s mind. By combining the noir stylings with the profanity, and a setting roughly two hundred years from now, Shahbazian hooks the reader in with immediate atmosphere.
The further I continued into the novel, it soon became evident that the tone the author has crafted belies the scope of the story. What begins as a detective story in the neon-soaked streets grows to encompass terrorist acts against a corporation, a conspiracy, plots to control the world’s government, the nature of religion, philosophical questions about the nature of life, and existential philosophy per the simulation hypothesis. Between its plot and themes, there’s a lot for Endgame to get through.
In exploring its many elements, Endgame comes to 261 pages, both in paperback, and its estimated Kindle swipes. It’s not a long book, though the author uses the space to create something that feels substantial, while also keeping the pace moving quickly, enabling it to explore its different facets without feeling overlong. Endgame tellis the story of Cynthia (or “Cyn,” interestingly, a homophone of “sin”) Hemlock. Cyn is a “Licensed Officer,” essentially a contract killer in a world where law enforcement is leased to corporations, tasked with investigating crimes and assassinating the criminals responsible. When three executives working for FaithCorp, a corporation offering technology which purports to show its users the ultimate truth and the meaning of their lives, are murdrred, Cyn is drawn into a web of intrigue that includes the combined might of the traditional religions (or “Trads”) the Godly Resistance Army, fighting for the cause that FaithCorp is peddling evil and will usher in the end of times, and the hunt for the head of this movement, Godhead. Throughout, the author weaves an intriguing tale that leads the reader deep into its world.
As the protagonist and sole point of view character, Cyn is the star of the show. She is a layered character, a former philosophy student who gave up these studies to take up killing as a Licensed Operative. As the story continues, her character is expanded upon beautifully, ensuring she has a strong character arc throughout. She is a strong, intelligent character, and seeing her adopt different roles through her investigations to uncover the information she requires provides constant enjoyment. The supporting characters aren’t as nuanced, however; these are largely two-dimensional characters to further Cyn’s story. They each suit this purpose, and a few of them entertain while the others infuriate, but Endgame doesn’t present them in great depth.
While I noted above that the book flips the gender roles in detective noir on its head, Cyn’s gender plays a prominent role in Endgame’s text. Because of this, she is often underestimated by the male characters, and treated differently by them. The treatment is sometimes more protective of her, sometimes treating her as if she’s inferior, and all too often, she’s subjected to sexual harassment. While throughout the novel, Cyn proves again and again that she’s any man’s equal, and most mens’ superior, the threat of rape suddenly becomes apparent towards the book’s end. I imagine this may be triggering to some survivors, and I found it doesn’t add anything to add to the stakes, These stakes are already high, and it feels like trying to add an extra layer of grittiness that isn’t necessary.
The novel is written in the first person with Cyn’s narration. She is a wonderful protagonist, and the prose goes a long way to showing it. Throughout the book, she does far more than narrate the events, colouring everything with her view as she provides background information, as well as her thoughts and insights. There are a lot of references to characters being fat, and the use of “Addicts” as a proper noun, treating both as the other. While these instances both come off as part of the character casting judgement than the author, it’s worth noting if you have a strong distaste for this. While Cyn is an intelligent, mature character, the occasional remark in her narration comes across as less intelligent or immature. While these are few and far between, they did manage to pull me out of the story. On a technical level, this generally flows beautifully, but there are excess words at point that another round of edits could have removed and smoothed out.
Endgame is a truly interesting cyberpunk story that offers the reader lots to think about, whether it’s about humanity, religion or reality, and builds an intriguing plot that draws you in as its scope increases. Its protagonist is wonderful, and while some of the treatment of her and some of her asides give me pause, Endgame remains a thoroughly engaging story.
He was badly injured in a car crash,” Dr. Jackson added, “and he donated his brain to us. Since then, he has been plugged into our most state-of-the-art divinators, experiencing the cutting-edge in spiritual bliss design. In return, we’re able to calibrate the effects of our new religitech to his neurochemical responses. It’s thanks to people like him that we are able to stimulate the mind’s spiritual receptors so well.”
“Does he know he’s a brain in a vat?” I asked.
“Is being a brain in a vat so different to being a brain in a skull?” Dr. Jackson smiled. “For him, the physical world has no meaning. His reality is determined by his own imagination.”Endgame, Chapter 21
Endgame was provided by the author for the purpose of an honest review.
Endgame will be available in physical and eBook forms from book retailers (including—but not limited to—Amazon) from 1 March 2023.
You can follow Steve Shahbazian 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 added when published by Amazon
Please find a link below; please note I do not collect any proceeds from the sale.Endgame