How shall I describe this book? Like a long, sad jazz solo,
meandering philosophically around the question of souls but never
quite coming to a conclusion---and it would be wrong if it did. On
the one hand, it's a story about a lost man looking for his lost dog.
On the other hand, it's an action-packed story about a cyborg
government agent taking on terrorists and mobsters with lots of
explosions and gunfire. The two are one and the same.
The signature element of this book is the slow action sequence. Early
on, a car crash takes sixteen pages and six little chapter breaks
between sections. The breaks show up unexpectedly, right in the
middle of the action: flash, and the action slowly picks up again from
an odd little aside, flash again, and we're talking about something
else as the car bursts into flames and we have time to admire the
pretty colors and reflect on the difference between how a human and a
cyborg would experience this crisis.
This book is not for the faint of heart, nor for those who want
answers. Reality is plastic for the characters in its universe, and
their memories are intact and true only so far as their data integrity
holds. Flash, and the book slows down for a conversation with an
imaginary character. Flash, it speeds up again for a philosophical
debate. You can hold it in your hand like a collection of still
photographs, painstakingly arranged to echo of loss and isolation,
hear the wind vibrating the ragged edges of the characters' threadbare
Is it deep? I don't think that it is. There are no ideas just
spelled out for the reader that are worth picking up. The characters
spend a lot of time thinking about philosophical issues of mind and
soul as they kill terrorists or perhaps become the terrorists
themselves. Their ideas, however, are less an original insight for
the reader (as some authors would have made it) than their own
attempts to cope with a world out of their control in which the
definition of humanity is increasingly meaningless. Is it deep? Not
on the surface, certainly, for all its deep words, but perhaps deep
The measure of a book's ideas, after all, is different in fiction than
it is in science. In science, you can walk away afterwards and say
"Yes, that was good." "No, I don't believe that" "Yes, it is novel."
Fiction, though, is a question of whether it roils your thoughts and
sticks with you afterwards like a tune you can't get out of your head.
Did this story infect me with its ideas? Perhaps... perhaps, like the
main character Batou, I just can't get rid of the jazz riff that's
going through it.
This is a sad story, and an old story, and a story about fear of the
new and foreign world we live in. It's what you might expect, looking
at the sepia image on the cover, Batou holding his dog in a blank
white emptiness that surrounds him. The dog droops mournfully and
Batou's face is turned to the side, looking at something that only he
can see, expressionlessly. Does he have a soul?
Don't expect this to be like the Ghost in the Shell movies. The
content is the same, but the texture works much better in novel form.
Read it and don't listen to the words the characters say, but the
things that drive them to say them. Listen for the long dark jazz
melody drifting into the bright sky over an endless city. Listen for
salvation in the strangest places. I loved the book, but I'm not
exactly sure why. Maybe you just have to settle down and take it on
its own term until the two of you are in synch.