Book: Mona

Dan Sehlberg,
Scribe Publications (2014)
RRP $32.99

Mona is one of the best ideas to come out of fiction in quite awhile, and Swedish author Dan Sehlberg shows a much more nuanced knowledge of computers and cyber-warfare than a run-of-the-mill thriller author just throwing around a cool buzzword or two.

The story begins with a brilliant, vengeful Palestinian programmer working for an Islamist terrorist group, who has created and unleashed a virus intended to cripple the financial systems and infrastructure of the West – and in particular Israel.

At the same time, a Stockholm computer scientist has developed a system that lets disabled people surf the web using the power of thought. This works through a helmet that connects directly to the user’s neural wiring and thereby presents a virtual representation of internet content directly into their visual cortex.

Theses two plot streams take their time coming together, but when they do you’ll wonder if it’s ever been done so artfully.

When the computer scientist tests his new system on his wife everything goes great, but with a single sucker punch line (“I can’t remember my own husband’s name”), suddenly all that came before makes sense. With just seven words, Mona makes you realise that Sehlberg has a sci-fi idea for the ages.

Unfortunately for science geeks, from that moment on Sehlberg seems to become more interested in the thrills and spills than the science and Mona becomes more about the chase than exploring the concepts raised in the beginning.

The intriguing ideas of brain-internet interface give way to the scientist’s search for the terrorists in a bid to find a cure for his wife. The Mossad is also on the trail as it tries to keep civilisation from ending amid collapsing stock exchanges and anarchy.

If the novel were plotted on a graph, the line depicting excitement about the science (rather than the chase scenes and thrills) would look like an earthquake, with a shattering early peak that gradually tapers off in inverse proportion to the pace of the story.

That said, it’s well plotted and written, but you may wish Sehlberg had made more of the thrilling idea than just a race against time.

Mona is a reminder that sometimes you have to take the entire text on its collective merit. The downside of the shift in focus from SciFi to more conventional thriller is that Sehlberg might lose more scientifically minded readers than he deserves as a consequence.

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