Novel: Gamechanger by L.X. Beckett

It’s quite possible L.X. Beckett’s Gamechanger (2019) was exactly the novel I needed to be reading at this moment in history. As the coronavirus steers us ever deeper into a real-time Gibsonian jackpot, a book that delivers science fiction in a hopeful package—or hope in a science fictional package, whichever—is a welcome thing indeed. Gamechanger does just the trick, exploring the period after the awful times have occurred, as humankind pulls together to chart a new, better path. Not that there aren’t still challenges in Beckett’s strange and disorienting future—which generates the requisite drama and conflict, of course—but encrypted in its realistic problems are skiffy thought experiments that are forward-thinking and refreshingly positive.

It chronicles the experiences of Rubi Whiting, a lapsed immersive gaming professional, now a legal advocate for the antisocial in a world driven by reputation economy. Rubi is a child of the Bounceback generation, a driven, engaged class currently rebuilding global society with a mind toward saving the planet and improving the collective good of humanity. Rubi’s dutiful life is disrupted by the actions of her latest client, the profane and unpredictable Luciano “Luce” Pox, a troublesome gadfly with reputation scores so low he’s been systematically ostracized by Cloudsight, the global social media surveillance platform that allows world citizenry to police each other’s behavior. Luce isn’t just some random internet troll, however. In fact, he’s the key to undersanding an imminent political crisis that threatens to send the officious but well intentioned global order into a new period of dangerous chaos.

The primary asset of Gamechanger, for me, is its amazing worldbuilding. Robust, complex, and marvelously inventive, the novel carries us further down the mad path of current trends, but then goes beyond them to look back at those speculations. Some of the neologisms and tropes are clear descendants of current vernacular—for example, people speak and think in hash-tags and @comments, and open-world video-gaming has gone so next level that it overlays “the surface” as people casually dip into and out of cyberspace. More interesting than the furniture, though, is the sociopolitics. The people of this future live in the shadow of the “Setback”—Beckett’s version of the jackpot, which likely began with the political upheavals of 2016—and look back with scorn not just on the selfish, destructive behavior of their ancestors, but at the dithering apathy that accompanied it, allowing things to get so dire. Naturally, not everyone is in lockstep in this progressive mindset, which leads to plenty of conflict. An entertaining subplot follows Rubi’s musician father Drow, who has been painted as a “hoaxer” for suspecting the neoliberal-billionaires of his era of setting up secret golden-parachute enclaves while the rest of the world made sacrifices toward a collective future. But while Drow may be onto something, it’s refreshing to spend time in a scenario where world-weary cynicism isn’t dominant.

Gamechanger is dense with fresh, thought-provoking science fictional thinking that rivals the idea-happy, futuristic work of writers like David Marusek, Malka Older, or Bruce Sterling. It’s also rife with great characters, delightful language, and unexpected plot twists, all couched in an energetic, compellingly upbeat voice. Oh, at times I lost sight of the woods for all the distracting trees—not an uncommon drawback to this kind of SF novel, and certainly not a deal-breaker. For while I occasionally lost track of what precisely was happening, I still relished the novel’s obvious love of language, its endlessly creative backdrop, and its unmistakeable heart. A delightful book.

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