Déjà Vu by Ian Hocking

“The purpose of Russian roulette is edification. A lesson that poses the question: is there a bullet or is there not?”

Time travel is not a subject I usually adore. It’s hard to execute correctly. There’s this little thing called the Grandfather Paradox, and that’s where most of my criticism comes when I see time travel pop up in literature. But Ian Hocking’s debut, Déjà Vu, makes a believer out of me.

That, and he deals with perceived reality and unreliable memory. I’m a sucker for those.

This technothriller pulls you from the very first page. Saskia Brandt walks into her Berlin office with a broken A/C and her secretary dead in the fridge. This is enough to rattle any woman straight from vacation. Problem is, Saskia killed her secretary, and has no recollection of it. This spells problems, and essentially leads to her loss of control. Blackmail can be a dangerous thing, especially when you can’t remember more than just one murder you’ve committed.

Somewhere around Oxford, David Proctor wakes up to a battle of wits with his prototype alarm clock. Or AI computer, if you want to get fancy. But when he gets a phone call from the company telling him that the other two prototypes were stolen just last night, he begins to worry. Things really start to get fun when he’s drafted into a plot to help some robot rights activists. All so he can return home to life that he left behind.

Nothing is what it seems as Hocking strings us along for one helluva ride.

Throughout the entire novel, reality is called into question, because when you can erase somebody’s memories, you erase everything. You erase perception. You erase motivation. You erase predictability, and the author knows how to keep you on your feet.

His snappy dialogue rollicks the plot along, setting scenes and snipping them before they become too stale. He knows what editing is, and the clipped, no-nonsense prose shows that in spades.

While this can at times translate into a dry novel, that’s okay. His dry sense of humor more than makes up for the brittle writing. Whether it’s waking up to a regular morning, fighting crime at night, or losing yourself in between, there’s always a nice injection of jokes. It’s lovely and well done.

“Life is, you know, shaped by forces beyond your control.”

But I would be amiss to mention the characters spouting off most of these japes.

Saskia is a woman who must learn about herself as we do, which creates essentially a blank slate. This makes up for itself as time goes on. The wiped convict worries she’ll fall into her violent history, but as the plot progresses, she loses these doubting shackles. She receives the most character development, becomes more multi-layered than the entire cast, and by the end, takes center stage.

Juxtaposed to her is the Professor David Proctor. He’s not a man who has his sights set on the future, but on the past. Whereas Saskia adds layers throughout the novel, David removes them. He has a dark past that leaves the reader wondering for the most part if he was pivotal in this doing. Certain actions of his call this into question, and truthfully, those were my favorite parts.

But the cast is just as important. Jago and Bruce spring to mind early on, one a grizzled cop who talks without preamble, the other an almost insane virtual reality walker. More characters sprout to life in many scenes, like Jennifer and Janine and the always lovable sociopath, Crane (which is the first true rendition of a sociopath I’ve seen in a long time). But I would be wrong if I didn’t reveal the true thief of most every scene he enters: the prototype computer Ego.

Put simply, I want the control of all technology around me at my fingertips. All with a complete lack of subtlety and humor. I loved him.

“’And if your memories of the weekend are false, where do you draw the line between falsehood and truth?”

Now to the big staple of this book: time travel. I’m not a fan of this particular vein of Science Fiction. Sure, I love me a good cyberpunk book. But as I said earlier, I’m not a fan of jumping through wormholes to reverse the past. It’s too easy to create plot holes. Luckily, Hocking adheres to the rule “Everything happens for a reason.” Moments are fixed. There is nothing you can do to change them.

There are times that this stretches the suspension of disbelief. I did rolls my eyes at one coincidence. But he explains it well enough, waves it off and does a good job.

Littering the narrative is bits and bobs of Greek Mythology, Shakespeare, and more sayings than you can shake a stick at. Dolls within dolls was a personal favorite of mine. Questions can get you killed was another. But the reoccurring Fates and other snippets can leave a bread crumb trail for the past, and make you scratch your head until the ending.

And then it wraps it all up in a clear explosion, quite literally. It’s amazing.

Intersected with virtual worlds, questions about reality, unreliable memories, and nanotechnology, Déjà Vu is sure to astound most any Science Fiction reader. It’s a dry book on the surface that cuts deeper with its ideas. Simply put, it’s brilliant.

“The man was like a chess piece from a different game relocated to the center of Crane’s board.”

*I was given this ARC for my honest review.*

Rating: 7/10

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