The Killer App
I knew immediately upon reading The Killer App's back cover that the book could equally be an unexpected gem or an unpolished rock. Alas; with the exception of its excellent premise and related hints of promise, it is much more the latter than the former. Set in a near-future England where geneticists have developed an experimental procedure to transfer a grown human's consciousness into a newborn's body, the plot offers plenty of potential opportunities for serious meditation. Yet while Writher seems to acknowledge many of the conundrums he poses, he rarely pays them adequate attention. When he does focus more narrowly on the considerable ethical dilemmas inherent in his premise and posited by the plot's subsequent course, he often engages them not only far too late but also by means of a character's convenient change of heart that is too ill-defined and sudden to be at all convincing. Even the book's genuinely surprising twists, and their significant emotional fallout, fail to resonate or to provoke the type of philosophical inquiry that the premise deserves. Readers and characters alike suffer from clumsy prose and flat characters who don't quite act as though they are anything more but vessels for the author's narrative whims.
Two-dimensional characters may occasionally prove sufficient in the type of thriller that this book aspires to be, but The Killer App lacks the kind of consistent pacing that maintains readers' engagement. The book often feels fitful, with unexpected perspective shifts that sometimes see minor supporting characters' thoughts displayed with as much prominence as the protagonists', without a segway to allow readers to make sense of the switch. Twists both routine and unexpected (including not one, but two utterly unnecessary and woefully unconvincing romantic arcs) do keep the plot moving along, but the entire book is marred by an out-of-nowhere ending that is equally problematic because of its suddenness and its failure to follow up, or even acknowledge, the fate of several minor characters whose treatment drives much of one protagonist's moralistic deliberations (which are, at any rate, far too little and far too late for the book to fulfill its evident aspirations). To ignore these implications of the plot, especially after deliberately drawing such attention to them in the name of character development, is to effectively dissipate the novel's unique ideas and waste its corresponding potential.
Added to an endless parade of extraneous commas and a clear lack of competent copy editing, the book's listlessness can make for a frustrating reading experience, particularly when coupled with Writher's excellent ideas. The result is a premise that seems half-baked at best, with valuable literary real estate devoted to unconvincing emotional asides and insufficient character development where they could have explored the fascinating implications of the technology that Writher so brilliantly conceives. Yet despite its many flaws, the book nonetheless displays a fair bit of promise, with a compelling premise that allows readers to speculate even when it fails to capitalize on its conceptual strengths. The science fiction at the book's core is first-rate and its basic premise is more than worthy of further exploration, and I would love to see Writher or another writer take another stab at it. Hampered, however, by haphazard character development and a plot that ignores its more interesting implications for a seemingly neat, but wholly unsatisfying, conclusion, The Killer App fails to deliver on its considerable potential.