Review: ANYONE by Charles Soule

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Cyberpunk as a genre isn’t dead, but it’s definitely not what it used to be. When we talk about cyberpunk, it’s hard to avoid harkening back to the classics – Mirrorshades, Neuromancer, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – because cyberpunk took place in such a specific cultural oeuvre. At least, that’s the popular conception, and a lot of modern cyberpunk makes the mistake of trying to replicate that exact feeling and aesthetic.

That’s why ANYONE by Charles Soule succeeds so triumphantly. It doesn’t hold up Neuromancer et al. as masterpieces; instead, it takes their themes and questions and drives forward into a different version of the future – one based on our present, not that of the 1980s. The premise of ANYONE is that a new technology is discovered, almost by accident, in a Michigan barn. This technology allows individuals to switch into other bodies for a limited period of time, and it quickly becomes a worldwide phenomenon, revolutionizing travel, healthcare, entertainment, and – on the darker side of things – violent crime, warfare and sex trafficking. All of it is controlled by a single corporation, and in true cyberpunk fashion, one woman – Annami – seeks to end their control.

I don’t want to say much beyond that, because part of the joy of ANYONE is how it controls the pacing of its reveals. It’s scifi thriller at its best, and not a single page (418 total in the paperback) is wasted. It also accomplishes something that scifi thrillers often fail at – we care about the characters, particularly Annami herself. The emotion of the book is just as strong as its tension, and I’m especially pleased about this given that Annami is a Black woman. (A Black woman! As the lead in a tradpub cyberpunk novel! Thank you!)

That said, there is one major issue that made me pretty sad. I’ll be circumspect because spoilers, but while Annami being a Black woman is pretty awesome, one particular trope shows up. Twice over, her love interests are shoved out of the picture, killed or otherwise removed. It’s frustrating, because it feels like Black women aren’t allowed to have love interests in the way that white women are – and I find this particularly noticeable in a genre that usually makes sure to give its male heroes the trophy girl at the end. Soule may very well have had a sensitivity reader (there’s enough obvious traps he avoided that I wouldn’t be surprised) but even with an SR, sometimes things get missed. In a world where Black female characters always got to fall in love, it wouldn’t stick out so much, but we’re not there yet. (And, look, okay, when I’m like ‘let the poor woman have a love interest that stays’ that says something.)

Finally, the book was sent to me because of non-binary rep, but I’ll be honest – it’s pretty much ‘blink and you’ll miss it’. I’m not sure if the publisher/author is advertising the non-binary rep or if it was just something that one or two bloggers said, but either way, it’s not particularly present. If it’s there more than I thought, I still missed it, and what I did catch was the type you have to sit with and unpack. It didn’t ruin the book for me by any means, but I wouldn’t go into this expecting canonical queerness.

Overall, ANYONE is four stars from me, and canonical queerness plus a love interest for Annami who sticks around would push it up to five stars. Definitely worth reading!

The buy links for ANYONE are all very nicely listed on this page, and include Indiebound, Barnes & Noble, and Books-a-Million.

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