Monday, January 15, 2018

Book Review: 'Quasar' by Jamil Nasir

Book Review: 'Quasar' by Jamil Nasir
2 / 5 Stars

'Quasar' (207 pp) was issued by Bantam Spectra in November, 1995. The cover art is by Bruce Jensen.

‘Quasar’ was author Nasir’s first novel, and represents a third-generation cyberpunk tale.

The story is set in a near-future earth where, in the aftermath of global war, much of the surface is an uninhabited wasteland, poisoned by biowarfare pathogens and toxins. Humanity has retreated to the confines of an enormous city, where they lived crammed into tiny apartments, breathing filtered air.

The lower levels of the city are decrepit slums, inhabited by mutants and outcasts, permanently forbidden to ascend to the city resting above their warrens.

Protagonist Ted Karmade is a ‘psychiatric technician’, who uses modified headsets to electronically jack in to the minds of the afflicted and deliver necessary counseling.

Ted’s life is humdrum and mundane, until he gets a summons to the Sentrex Complex, the highest, largest, edifice in the city, and the home of the unimaginably wealthy ZantCorp. There he is tasked to treat the psychological traumas of one Quasar Zant, the beautiful heiress to the ZantCorp fortune.

As Karmade settles into his job as psychiatric counselor to Quasar Zant, he discovers that, far from being a deranged party girl, Zant is a genuinely troubled soul whose life is stealthily manipulated by her trustee and aunt, Nelda Cloud.

Quasar is adamant that the solution to her psychic turmoil somehow lies in the Warrens under the city. When Quasar slips away from her minders and flees to the forbidden zones, it’s up to Ted Karmade to find her and bring her back before ZantCorp’s executives realize they have lost control of their future CEO.

But as Karmade learns more of Quasar’s childhood, it becomes clear that what is taking place within the confines of the Sentrex Complex is not just a struggle over the future of the corporation. Rather, what happened to the young Quasar Zant, and her since-vanished parents, will have implications for the survival of the city and the entire human race……

‘Qausar’ is a middling first novel. It starts off on an intriguing note, as we follow Karmade into the Sentrex Complex and its warped atmosphere marked by the presence of the decadent rich, and their mercenary staff.

But the middle chapters are overly preoccupied with the burgeoning psychodrama between Quasar and Karmade, and the narrative tends to drag.

Things liven up in the novel’s last chapters, although some plot developments struck me as a little too contrived – the ‘cosmic’ revelations come so thick and fast they tend strain the novel’s structure as a tale centered on the emotional interactions of doctor and patient.

Nasir would revisit the theme of a man who (against his better judgment) is gradually caught up in the political and social turmoil surrounding a beautiful, but flawed, young woman in his 1999 novel Tower of Dreams, which much improved over ‘Quasar’.

Cyberpunk fans may want to give ‘Quasar’ a try, but I would recommend ‘Tower’ as a better entry to Nasir’s writings.

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