Thomson’s novel is rich in detail that fills the story with a sense of historical authenticity without falling into the sci-fi trap of impractical “wouldn’t this be cool” and smacks of William Gibson’s classic, Neuromancer. In that same respect there is a very real danger of becoming hopelessly lost in the foreignness of a world so far removed from our own, the reader is enfiladed by foreign terminology with roots just firm enough to get a grasp on them without being completely lost, but Thomson preserves a few human foibles that allow us to anchor ourselves while we familiarize ourselves with the rest of the universe. For the curious and persistent, like a good sci-fi reader, you’ll settle in.
Mixed into the tale are a few unobtrusive observations about smoking and a book-long theme of the class system of the future, of which the main character, named with tongue in cheek, Smith, and the self- and surrounding-destructive nature of an obsessively hedonistic and predictably escapist human race controlled by megabusinesses.
The Process Server is decidedly anti-big business, or at the very least, the main character is, rightly laying blame for the slow environmental destruction of Earth at the feet of the Big-6 corporations and capitalism-at-all-costs that supplanted government—the culmination of a capitalist’s wet dream.
Apart from the jarring experience of acclimating oneself to a new reality, to which sci-fi readers learn to welcome that moment of epiphany when the new environment begins to click comfortably, the story breezed along smoothly and kept me interested once I understood (fairly early on) what Bob Smith, the process server, intended to do.
This is a story of discovery, about where humanity finds itself in the future, and is fascinating in learning how things shake out. It is a universe in which conservative, capitalist, and hawkish ideology wins out, for the most part, and depending on your perspective this may seem a utopian or dystopian outcome. From the point-of-view of the main character, a disrespected member of the lower caste who assesses the state of things with a tone of grim resignation, it’s clearly the latter, and like most folk in his situation in the present and the past, his goal is not to try and change the world to suit him better, but to get by in it as best he can.
Thomson has created a fascinating (or forbidding) future, populated it with a few gritty, Sisyphus-like characters with varying levels of addiction to alternate-reality escapism, whose primary goal is to survive, not unlike the crew of Serenity. The dialogue is sharp, the descriptions snappy, the conclusions sensible, and the story wholly engaging. It isn’t often that I enter a world that has not been heavily critiqued and seasoned for a few decades, but with those reservations in mind, this is a world I leave that was well worth the time to get to know before everyone else had a chance to tell me to check it out.