There’s an incredible purity to Gary J. Kirchner’s Cromby’s Axiom – a return to some of the staples of the great science fictions of the 20th century that you just don’t see written right very often anymore. There’s something of Orwell’s 1984, hints Lang’s Metropolis, Cameron’s original Terminator, even sneaking comparisons to Ellison’s seminal “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream” if you are looking for them. Kirchner is building on and adapting from all of these greats with one, phenomenal difference, none of these creators could have dreamed of how interconnected mankind would become in future.
Where all of them dabbled in the dangers of an oppressive, strictly maintained regime, or the hubris of creating true artificial intelligence, these men hadn’t a clue what the 21st century digital landscape would look like. Kirchner, however, does and dials that landscape up to 11 in this new take on so many classic ideas.
Every person on earth is connected through the Hive, a many tentacled neural network designed to allow everyone on earth access to each other’s thoughts, emotions, and experiences at any given instant. Tommy “TeePee” Antikagamac, a professional football player and one of the most watched minds on earth, is training alone in the wilderness of what was once central Europe when, inexplicably, his mental connection to the Hive, and thus the rest of the world, is severed, leaving him adrift mentally, and physically isolated, for the first time in his life.
What follows is harrowing as Tommy struggles to become, and adapt to, being a mind alone, rather than one voice in a thousand-thread mental conversation happening simultaneously every second of every day. With Tommy in this isolation are the Ketchen, rebels who refuse and run from the Hive and her operatives, seeking to destroy this system that Tommy wants so desperately to return to.
Having come of age in the era of the YA dystopia, one of the things that I most appreciate about Kirchner’s work is how seriously he takes his audience. Yes, exposition is given, but at natural intervals, without the exhausting “here’s everything you need to know about the setting to understand this story” first chapter that so many authors resort to. Names, slang, and places that do not exist in today’s vernacular crop up organically, and the audience is expected to figure out their importance through context clues rather than explicit definition, and as a reasonably intelligent reader, I appreciate that.
Cromby’s Axiom reads like the classic science of last century, with all the awareness that living today can bring. Sharp, twisty, and clever in unexpected ways, Kirchner has brought to life a brave new world of possibilities with this novel, and the results are a modern masterpiece sure to delight longtime fans of the genre, and newcomers alike.