“The emotion-suppressing chips that everyone had implanted shortly after birth should make violence toward another next to impossible. As your anger grew, so the device stimulated the secretion of hormones to calm you … The brain chips kept our emotions in check and added entries to our official records when anger, sexual desire, fear, or depression reached predetermined thresholds. We were no longer allowed to be angry, promiscuous, or depressed.”
Killer Minds by Stephen Sackleigh is a fast-paced, futuristic, SciFi thriller that explores issues pertinent to the headlines of today – if the government could tap into your brain as well as your phone calls, internet communications, and GPS devices, would they? More to the point, should they force the technology on the entire population if it prevents crime and violence? In the UK of the not-so-distant future, all citizens have a chip in their brains which prevents most crime. A passive citizenry is a happy citizenry, it seems. As you might imagine, not all of the citizens agree.
When a young woman is stabbed to death, Police Technical Support Officer Simon Carlisle is dispatched to the scene to carry out the initial examination of the body. When he discovers that the victim had no brain chip, he is intrigued and begins to look into the case surreptitiously in his own time. His investigation eventually leads him to an organization which intends to use any method necessary to force the government to stop the chipping program. Their methods are illegal, but Carlisle (who is hiding a secret of his own related to his chip) is attracted to their cause – or is he? He infiltrates the group, and by doing so, endangers himself and everyone he cares about.
I found the premise of this novel intriguing. The story begs you to think about what you would give up to have a peaceful society while it also provides you with entertainment and suspense. In a time when Western governments are asking us to give up more and more of our personal privacy and freedom (or just taking it from us without our knowledge), the novel does a good job of creating a central character who wrestles with similar issues of a more intrusive kind. Like the best SciFi writers, Mr. Sackleigh has created a story which is a commentary on current society as well as a rousing good tale.
In terms of prose style, I think the author does a great job building suspense and keeping the story moving; I was keen to know if evil would be defeated in the end. Characterizations were also generally sound.
However, I do have criticisms. When the story moved away from being about the control of the population through chips into being a story about MEHs (Mentally Enhanced Humans) who had control of their chips or had other paranormal abilities such as invisibility or mind control, I became less interested. In fact, this element of the story left me saying, “meh”, at several points. The paranormal aspect didn’t tie in well enough with the original technological premise – did the chip cause the abilities? The book wasn’t clear on this. Are these people who would have had these abilities without a chip? If so, do they even belong in this story? It’s not that I think SciFi and Paranormal are unable to live gracefully together in one book, I just think it didn’t happen in this one. There were times when I was okay with accepting it, but then one of the MEHs would demonstrate a power that was so over the top that I had to take a moment to roll my eyes and say (in my most snarky voice), “really?”.
The second problem I had with the book goes to proofreading. For this book, it was a minor problem – I expect a few proofreading errors even in traditionally published books. But I do have my (admittedly low) threshold. This book skates over it by just a tad. It wasn’t awful – no spelling errors or major grammar mistakes. The book was well edited, but when the editing is done, a proofreader needs to look it over, too. There were a few missing words and a number of missing commas. Many people wouldn’t be bothered by the commas, but I am. I should note that I’m aware that Mr. Sackleigh is British, so he won’t write with American grammar conventions. In fact, from the way he uses “was sat” instead of “was sitting” throughout the book, I’m also aware that he’s probably from the north, and even the BBC uses “was sat up” up there. The standards I uphold for comma usage in this book are only the ones that apply on both sides of the pond.
Despite my criticisms, I still think this is a solid, entertaining, and interesting first novel. I would give it 3.5 stars, but I’m subtracting .25 for the comma problems. There are definitely many traditionally published SciFi novels out there with less interesting stories and ideas that would cost you much more than $2.99. If the premise of Killer Minds appeals to you and you’re a fan of fast-paced, science fiction thrillers, won’t mind the paranormal elements, and are not a big nitpicker about comma usage, you can pick this one up on Amazon.com by clicking here or on iTunes by clicking here.