Daniel has just turned eighteen. It is a significant day for him and serves to lift his expectations from the drudgery of organ scrubbing, a task he has performed for years, preparing harvested organs for rich recipients living in The Bubble. If these opening sentences have produced a disconnect in your mind, then welcome to yet another alternative reality envisioned by the fertile imagination of Jason Werbeloff.
Werbeloff’s previous works, The Solace Pill and Obsidian Worlds opened Weird Fiction readers to a harvest of new delights, and this latest series of books sees him develop his unique ideas on a larger canvas. Werbeloff has the ability to create speculative, futuristic worlds by observing trends in modern society and extrapolating them to horrific proportions. The resultant feel is similar to the excitement I felt from reading early 2,000 AD comics or Stephen King’s ‘Long Walk’ or ‘Running Man.’
So, back to the story. The future holds many luxuries if you live in The Bubble: Door to door hovering taxi service, 3D-printed meals, spectacles that give a continuous internet feed of information and analysis of the surrounding environment, walls that mould themselves into your every sensual desire; oh – and the extension of life through rapid organ transplant. Of course there has to be a supply for this ever increasing demand, and this is met by The Gutter. If you’re born the wrong side of the tracks then your body is destined for organ removal by degrees, just to meet payments for your continued existence. Your replacements are sub-standard artificial implants that leave your lungs wheezing for breath and your joints creaking like a pensioner’s.
On Daniel’s eighteenth birthday, he earns the right to discover his parent’s identity. Like so many of the lowly, he is an orphan. After several traumatic experiences he resolves to acquire his organs back. Only then can he feel whole once more. This path leads him into making ever darker decisions as he tracks down the recipients of his cornea, knee and a host of other organs and tissues he lost over the years.
As we follow Daniel’s journey, Werbeloff paints a dystopian world with the most succinct and visceral of descriptions. Take this for example:
“About a hundred yards into New Settlers Ways, the sweet stink of burning flesh competed with the smoke. Daniel remembered that smell from the operating theatre, when they’d removed his amygdala. But it was stronger here. Omnidirectional. As though the entire area were a seeping wound, and the sun its surgeon.”
Make no mistake, there are some deeply dark moments in this gripping read. From ‘Amputating Amy’s’ emporium (I won’t add any extra detail here, only the advice not to read this chapter on an empty stomach) to the dismal scenes from The Gutter, the reader is left in no doubt that a decent life expectancy is the preserve of the rich only.
Werbeloff’s characters are complex and quickly imprint themselves on the reader’s mind, whether they be Daniel’s friends, androids, incidental acquaintances or his nemesis. Speaking of which; Kage, a transgender investigator has a lifestyle that forms a photographic negative of Daniel. While our protagonist is looking to retrieve parts of his body, the antagonist is looking to exchange his as he aspires to metamorphose from his female body to that of an adonis.
All these ingredients make for a complex but not over-complicated plot. The ending leaves events at a junction of sorts, leaving the reader salivating for more in Fragment (Book) 2: The Face In A Jar, and fragment 3: The Boy Without A Heart, which are also available for download at this link
Werbeloff’s star is rising. Hop on this cybernetic rocket ride and enjoy the spectacle.
Release date: 23rd August 2016