Wanted and Wired
Wanted and Wired takes our obsession with technological advancements to the nth degree while exploring ideas about how the human heart survives when the head has gone to the machines. It’s an interesting idea that’s perfect for a Science Fiction story; however it gets rather convoluted when romance is thrown into the mix. Add in a dash of post-apocalyptic dreariness and the final product is a confusing and rather dry story.
War, disease and ecological disasters have decimated the United States, destroying the union and leaving two factions battling for control. The former state of Texas has seceded into their own country while the other states have created a United North American Nation. Mari Vallejo was raised near San Antonio but has operated outside of either government for many years as a gun for hire. Working for whoever can afford her services has made her loyal to no one except herself and her partner Heron. Their relationship has always fallen into a gray area, because although Mari implicitly trusts Heron, she’s put off by his nature as a post-human. His cybernetic implants and enhancements have made him more machine than man and Mari has long prided herself on being completely flesh and blood. It’s a prejudice that doesn’t affect their working relationship but has put any of her lustful thoughts about him strictly on hold.
Their latest job should be a straightforward contract to destroy an android duplicate of an influential senator’s husband. Heron’s research can find no complications with the situation and Mari is more than comfortable taking out a machine even if it looks like a man. Things go to hell when Mari takes her shot but the victim bleeds organic blood and dies in a graphic way. Instead of destroying a machine Mari has just killed a human – which is still an illegal act for both governments. Heron’s precautions give the pair a narrow window to escape the scene but his link to the CCTV and news feeds tells him that the authorities were tipped off about the hit and are already looking for Mari.
Heron Farad has been in love with Mari since before they were ever partnered together. He knew her before she became a mercenary and he took his time approaching her about becoming her partner because of her feelings about human augmentation. When things go sideways, Heron’s only thought is to protect Mari at any cost but he’s been hiding many aspects of his life from her. His enhancements aren’t limited to mere cybernetic limbs or chips to increase his intelligence; Heron has become a cyborg with only a few organic components left within his body to keep him classified as human. Only his love for Mari and his fear of losing his individual consciousness into the cloud of information linking the world’s computers have kept him from becoming a completely cybernetic being. Keeping Mari close means exposing the truth of his nature to her and the ties that he has to her missing father, a man who was a mentor for Heron and a scientist who may have caused the disaster that killed so many humans.
Wanted and Wired doesn’t exactly shoot out of the gate to grab a reader’s attention. World building takes time and there is plenty that needs to be established before anyone can feel comfortable with the ideas of cyborgs, self-aware robots and the governments fighting to control all of them in the name of humanity. The technobabble goes over the top to explain away every enhancement Heron has or every ability he uses to protect Mari during their escape, which, unfortunately, de-humanizes him more than any description of his robotic components ever could. It’s difficult to get a read on Heron’s true emotional state other than that he ‘loves’ Mari and has a weakness for protecting things that have sentimental value for humanity. Apart from that, Heron has the emotional presence of a toaster. Things move a little towards the icky side of technology when Heron is jacked into a vehicle’s onboard computer, getting a physical sensation whenever Mari touches something inside. So of course Mari notices this little quirk by handling the e-brake on his car. You get the picture from here…
It’s unclear exactly who set-up Mari to kill a real person rather than an android. As things about her past and her current predicament are tied to her father’s disappearance, it actually muddies the waters rather than clearing things up for the book’s resolution. There are plots brewing off page, setting up a war between the two governments that will happen in the next few books which go astray in the inclusion of a third party in the form of the Tether which is a space-station linked to the ground by a single conduit that transports people aboard and information up to a creature known as the Queen. She’s another hybrid like Heron but her influence can be felt throughout the cloud. There’s an underlying sense that she truly has control over the all the world’s data and information technologies. In a future where most humans have some kind of tech in their bodies, who really rules the world?
That leads to the last question asked by the story and one that I don’t think Ms. Jackson gets right for the romance genre. Having a cyborg hero matched with a biologically human heroine brings up the idea of the soul and where does it begin or end. Heron is the middle ground where the human is still there but has been detached from the emotional connections that make us soulful beings. Mari is an expression of the raw and powerful piece of the puzzle that makes a human aware of their life. She is a carnal, physical being who owns her sexuality as a way of enriching her soul. I like that she is unapologetic about seeking her pleasure as a way of cleansing herself of the deeds she has to do to survive; however this makes it hard to believe that she’s really letting herself be vulnerable when she and Heron become intimate. In this one case he seems the most human, seeking connection where she’s trying to avoid that intimacy. Their relationship never feels soul deep even though by the end they’re both completely dedicated to one another.
I will give points to Ms. Jackson for creating a fully realized vision of the future where man and machine are basically one and the same. As modern technology has gained importance it isn’t much of a stretch to think we’d surrender little pieces of ourselves for the convenience of better reflexes or faster cognitive ability. Wanted and Wired will appeal to readers who look for a heavier Sci-Fi focus in the books they read. But I missed the human connections and emotional impact I expect to find in a book described as a romance.