I first read Amanda Orneck’s writing during the Nerdist novel contest that brought Its All Fun and Games to print back in 2016. She writes strong female characters in clever, well fleshed out worlds, and I quickly became a fan of her writing. Sister of the Circuit, originally titled Deus Hex Machina (which I thought was the coolest title ever), is about Isidore RAM, an up and coming devotee within a techno-theocratic nation state in what is current day California. Among her duties as an initiate for the Church of Technology include patrolling the virtual world to ensure that the sanctity of the design code is maintained. In essence, she’s a bug-quashing zealot.
On her final test before officially becoming a member of the clergy, she is contacted by a rogue element within the system. This experience results in her being both excommunicated and banished from the only home she’s known for the majority of her life. All of this happens within the first couple chapters, leaving the rest of the book to detail her adventures outside her cloister as she first to prove her innocence and return to the fold. As you might expect, these adventures introduce her to a wide cast of characters, both friendly and malevolent, and yield discoveries that cause her to grow as a person and begin to question the fundamental truths that had guided her life. And, of course, behind the scenes, the Church’s high priestess has her own plots at work.
Sister of the Circuit is a solid cyberpunk read, substituting the Church for the omnipowerful corporations pulling the strings in a Shadowrun-esque world, and sprinkling in a couple dollops of combat mechs for good measure. The characters generally have solid motivations driving their individual choices, though I’m a little flummoxed by why one particular one acted as they did (either I missed it or it’s a legitimate deus ex machina). The novel ends on not one but two cliff hangers left to be resolved in future installments. I’ll be grabbing it as soon as it is released.
Buy if: You’re a fan of Shadowrun or Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash (That’s not to say that Orneck’s writing is as good as Stephenson’s but that her merging of the “real” and virtual world makes me think of Snow Crash)
Don’t buy if: You’re not a fan of Sci Fi or find the premise of an increasingly important virtual world one disbelief too far for suspension.