In the 23rd century, the Earth's surface is a toxic wasteland and corporations called Coms have replace nations, exploiting billions of poverty-stricken "protes", whose lives they own.
Executive Dominic Jedes has good looks, wealth and the future promise of his father's place as president of ZahlenBank, the only institution more powerful than the Coms. But when his father dies unexpectedly, Dominic endangers his inheritance with one fatal mistake. He directs ZahlenBank to "free" 2,000 protes, trapping them on a malfunctioning submarine. The protes are supposed to die, alleviating the company of a costly asset. But they survive, and thrive, and other protes join their nascent rebellion – jeopardizing the very order of the new world.
To set things right, Dominic must travel to the bottom of the ocean, face the thousands of people he left to die and find a way to stop them. The only help he has is a digital ghost of his dead father, connected to him through a neural link. But when Dominic starts to question whose side he's really on, that link might prove to be his greatest enemy.
Neurolink is set 200 years in the future with a backdrop of unmitigated global warming leading to near planetary inhabitability forcing life into domes. At the same time, the 1% have succeeded in doing away with nations and reducing societal organization around banking empires that control world markets in everything and lord over the remaining 99% (known as "protes" for protected) in a feudalistic relationship. The world trade organization (WTO) has evolved into an AI controlled referee that is assumed to maintain parity among the banks.
Our hero, Nic, is the son of the head of the largest bank on the planet whose father dies, but transfer his memories and personality into a neural net (known as the NP). In an offhand gesture, Nic cuts loose a group of protes involved in a submarine mining operation they obtain in a deal gone sour. Instead of conveniently dying, the protes develop some degree of self-sufficiency and broadcast their intentions to the world to survive independent of the existing structure.
Obviously, their sends the markets into a tailspin and Nic is finally forced to confront them on their own turf to "negotiate" some settlement. At this point, the story attempts a type of Heart of Darkness / Apocalypse Now theme with Nic getting an education in how the other 99% "noble savages" actually live and survive. He also encounters a hodge-podge of eccentric people. At the same time, Nic is struggling against his own upbringing and cultural norms while attempting to exhibit a streak of independence and stand up to his father/NP's wishes.
In the end, Nic manages to thread the needle and satisfy the various parties; more importantly he has grown himself in the process. Buckner has done an admirable job of extrapolating current events into a potentially believable vision of the future. Nic's journey drags a bit at times and the peccadilloes of protes becomes annoying as are the continual countdown to armageddons that always manage to reset just in time.
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