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Brendan Detzner reviews "Archangel Protocol" by Dan Weiss

Deidre McManus, the narrator and central character in Lyda Morehouse’s novel “Archangel Protocol”, is an ex-cop who has become a private investigator to pay the bills. She has a piece of metal implanted underneath her skin that used to connect her to the LINK, a virtual network that allows it’s users to access information from around the world at any time, but ever since she was ex-communicated from the Catholic church. Not being a member of a major religion means that not only can she not access the LINK, but she also can’t get health insurance or buy or sell goods except by barter.

The power of religion has been steadily increasing over the past hundred year. People started having their doubts about secular government after the Medusa bomb was dropped on New York, transforming the better part of the Bronx (and all the people in it) to crystal, but after powerful being claiming to be angels started appearing on the LINK religion’s influence really exploded. As the 21st century draws to a close, Russia is the only major world power that denies any religious affiliation.

One day, a man named Michael walks into Deidre’s office with an offer…

The future world that Morehouse has conceived has few real precedents that I can think of. The concept of the LINK, both how the technology works and the effect it has on the way that people live, owes a certain amount to cyberpunk, but the treatment these ideas are given here is refreshingly clear-headed and free of the baggage that particular genre has picked up over the years. And the ideas in “Archangel” about religion, and how the presence of the LINK angels has changed society, are fresh and fascinating. Too often in science fiction, religion, when it’s dealt with at all, is treated as either an anachronism or as a passive reflection of whatever’s really going on in the world. In Morehouse’s future, religion, in both its earthly and heavenly manifestations, is an active presence, a force that can hold its own against both politics and technology. The battle between these three powers yields some interesting results.

In fact, the world of “Archangel Protocol” has so many interesting things to see in it that the book seems to be in a huge rush to fit them all in. The plot and the action move so quickly, and cut between so many different levels, that there is seldom any real sense of atmosphere underneath everything that’s going on. A story about a private detective in a devastated urban setting that also involves religious themes shouldn’t have trouble with ambiance; a little awe or suspense plugged in a few key places would’ve gone a long way. And images as powerful and unique as the “glass city” deserve to be lingered over.

Another thing weighing “Archangel” down is in some of its characterizations. The protagonist Deidre never sets herself apart from the stereotypical Feisty Heroine. Her feelings for others, including Michael, her initial employer and eventual love interest, never seem like anything more then plot devices. The deaths and betrayals of those around her doesn’t even throw off her rhythm, and even her religious beliefs are only barely sketched out. Her thoughts on some of the story’s later developments (I won’t give them away here) show some potential for growth, though, and it will be interesting to see how she develops in the sequel. Also, some of the side characters, like the Muslim hacker Mouse, his self-conscious homepage program, and a mysterious friend of Michael’s who just happens to be named Morningstar are all interesting, and hopefully we’ll be seeing more of them.

The problems with mood and character are all important, but “Archangel Protocol” manages to stay interesting in spite of them. There’s enough energy and invention here to fill out ten less ambitious novels, and the ending suggests that Morehouse is only getting started. It’s going to be fun seeing where she goes from here.

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