Cypulchre follows Paul Sheffield, a former scientist in an alternate reality, who was involved with a revolutionary cyberspace called the Cloud. This invention allows individual minds to link to a central network of shared information, where users can essentially download or upload different information packages — in this realm of reality, the Cloud has become a catalyst of transcendent divergence in human evolution.
The novel’s title, a combination of cyber- and sepulchre, refers to the Cloud simultaneously broadcasting signals and receiving and storing incoming information from users as a sort of watch tower or gateway point where reality and cyberspace converge.
Paul’s character is modelled after the classic cyberpunk protagonist. He is crippled by schizophrenia, and he has suffered a devastating event that separates him from his family and his own creation. It is only through a series of unfortunate, or perhaps deliberate, events that he is forced to act on a bigger scale against the very technology he has brought to life.
Cyberpunk is a subgenre of science fiction. According to author Joseph MacKinnon, one of its fundamental elements is the exploration of the “inverse relationship between technology and quality of life.” The story is usually set in a dystopian society of the near future, where the relationship between high tech and low life is often defined by the barrier of advanced science.
The writing in Cypulchre is detailed and uses a wide array of illustrative and sometimes ornamental words; it is filled with the kind of techno-babble common in cyberpunk fiction. This collection of descriptive words and new vocabulary sometimes hinders the telling of the story. MacKinnon has acknowledged others’ criticism of his heavy use of detail, and although he stated that the book was written to be more readable, it still contains a fair amount of description.
MacKinnon’s writing style helps to paint a clearer image of the world, however, and the story ends up reading like an action film. He uses a mixture of first and third person perspectives, focusing mainly on third person and inserting the former in italics. Paul’s inner thoughts are audible, but the world is still largely perceived through a wide-view perspective, adding to the story’s action film visual vibe. “That’s great!” said MacKinnon, in response to this observation. “I wanted to write for an action game.”
One of the fascinating aspects about reading a cyberpunk novel is the introduction of a new world, new words, and a new form of immersion. As MacKinnon explained, “The word might be new, but the idea is not necessarily new.” For those who are unfamiliar with some of the jargon, the style could be a stumbling block. However, after becoming immersed in MacKinnon’s writing style and the world of Paul and the Cloud, the reader is suitably geared up for all the action-packed events leading up to the final moments.
Joe MacKinnon’s Cypulchre was an interesting read and would be an appropriate introduction to the realm of cyberpunk fiction. For those who decide to give it a chance and want to read more similar fare, MacKinnon recommends revisiting older cyberpunk novels such as William Gibson’s Neuromancer or Neal Stephenson’s Snowcrash.