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on 1 December 2013
Belfast born, and now Cardiff incomer, Wayne Simmons is an author best known for his string of excellent zombie novels: Drop Dead Gorgeous, Flu, Fever, and Doll Parts, which have been published in the UK, Austria, Germany, Spain, Turkey and North America.

With Plastic Jesus he has turned his hand to a near future, dystopian science fiction treat of a thriller which brings us the twisted love child of Blade Runner, Lawnmower Man and Judge Dredd. This novel could easily have been a gritty and dirty crime novel, with a seedy underbelly of a broken city cleverly shown within each and every page. From crime lords to junkies, to corrupt police and corrupting big business, this novel had every making of a noir special ...but Wayne wasn't satisfied with `just' a great crime book, oh no. This book shows us what just may happen when religion and capitalism collide in unholy matrimony and the world `ends' as a result. Well, when I say ends I mean society pretty much collapses: drugs, prostitution, and virtual reality technology hold sway in a future where religion is forgotten, disparaged, or is a dirty word.

As with his other books Wayne jumps right into things and keeps a pretty frenetic pace all the way through. Disparate characters are introduced at break neck speed and only near the end do they all started to come together, strands of a very large web that Wayne deftly weaves in his story. There isn't really a `good' guy amongst the bunch. Johnny Lyons is a widower who is drowning in his own grief. Garcon, his boss, is willing to go to any lengths to give his company the success that it needs. Harold Shephard, the last preacher in a city without religion, has lost his faith. Rudlow, the chief of police, is desperate to bring the ruling crime lord to justice. McBride, the said crime lord, is all-powerful and, rightly, feared by everyone ...other than Kitty, his daughter, how lives in a permanent drug-fuelled high, paid for by prostitution.

It is Simmons' characters that steal the show in Plastic Jesus. I mean this as a compliment entirely but Wayne doesn't waste time writing complex plot around storylines that you need a PhD in `wtf' to understand. He writes about the zombie apocalypse, he writes about situations that people can grasp and, mostly, he writes about people in those situations. He makes you despise who you should despise, he makes you root for who you should root for, but he never makes his heroes wear white, or his villains wear black ... he makes every character flawed, broken, detailed, and, above all, real.
In a story where an Island off the coast of America is falling apart at the seams, where a virtual reality Jesus may be the thing that saves or damns humanity, where families come together and are torn apart, and where everyone seems to succumb to despair and hit rock bottom, reality is the thing that stood out the most. Wayne writes about the fantastical with the ability to keep the reader firmly entranced within the story and with the characters.

Is this book perfect? No. I think that perhaps it is sometimes too dark, too unrelenting in terms of despair and humanity's failings. No one comes out of the book unscathed and, perhaps, that will be too dark for some. There are elements of light and humour in it, of course, and depending on your perspective there may even be a form of happy ending for some. Also, speaking of endings, the resolution for the book is the only time that the pace lets itself down; there are a lot of characters, with individual stories that tie into the overarching narrative of the book and while they are all handled nicely it feels like the pace speeds up just a little too much near the end. I think that this story could easily have spanned a couple, maybe even three, books, and by doing so there would have been more space to not only breathe but to discover the characters in more detail ...and to experience the fear/horror of virtual reality gone wrong.

That is a minor niggle, and Wayne may have plans to bring back some (not all ...not everyone comes out alive in a Wayne Simmons book, after all) of the characters that we met. For me I'd love to find out more about Charles 7!

To sum things up Plastic Jesus gives us an uncomfortable look at ourselves, and what we could become ...what some of us are already... in a world filled with avarice and addiction, to money, to drugs, and to technology. It could be described as cyberpunk, or sci-fi thriller, but whatever it is it is undoubtedly very good indeed.
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on 31 January 2014
Wayne Simmons, author of Flu, Drop Dead Gorgeous and other zombie related works, turns his writing hand to a cyberpunk style, futuristic SF noir.

I have a confession to make - I haven't read a full Wayne Simmons book before this one. I've gotten a third of the way through Flu before my borderline ADD kicked in...it's not that Flu isn't good - it is, very - it's just that I have a terrible attention span and really have to force myself to stick with one book. I've currently got twelve books with bookmarks in at various places, so that gives you an idea.

Anyway, I decided to sit down and read something relatively recent, in order to contribute more to current works.

Plastic Jesus is set in the fictional island of Maalside, which has separated from the US and follows a number of characters that live in it's capital, Lark city - Johnny Lyons, recently bereaved and the man who eventually creates the virtual Jesus; Sarah Lee, his co-worker; Garçon, their boss; Kitty McBride, young prostitute and crack-head, daughter of local gangster don, Paul McBride; Rudlow, the islands police Chief; and various other sundry characters. If there's one thing Wayne does well, it's the ensemble cast.

The story is set in the aftermath of global Holy Wars, the almost complete dissolution of religion, relative freedom of drug use in Maalside (barring one or two substances that remain illegal) and common use of VR technology, through wiretaps direct into the brain. As these various individuals move through the novel, the picture of the world they live in becomes clear. Into this mix comes a plan by Garçon to reinvigorate the nearly dead christian icon of Jesus Christ.

The setting is very well described. I don't know what Wayne's credentials are as regards cyberpunk, but I've read a few books myself (notably Jon Courtenay Grimwood and Ken McLeod) and his writing here feels authentic. There's a distinct noir crime feel in amongst the SF trapping and technology, and this is one of the hallmarks of good cyberpunk, I think. It's also bleak. Not in an oppressive way, but there's very little sense of altruism from the players; they're all in it for themselves. Not that there aren't flashes of humour, but the overall atmosphere is one of desperation and despair, of capitalism and hedonism run amok, playing out to their inevitable, seedy ends.

There are gangland killings, corrupt police shenanigans, drug use, all the more despicable traits of humanity are on display. It's well conceived, though and the writing is snappy and quick, sharp little sentences and short paragraphs that keep the narrative moving.

I must confess, I was expecting the VR Jesus to appear much earlier. I had formed the impression that it would either be a metaphor for drug addiction, a viral programme that would cause chaos in the city/world or would be some form of AI gone out of control. Whilst there are some of these elements present, it comes into the story quite late on and seems to be wrapped up pretty quickly. I think I'd have liked more description of how exactly the Jesus programme is affecting the populace. There are one or two allusions, but they feel somewhat scant in comparison to the supposed import of the situation.

It's a fast paced read (even for me) and the ending leaves possible room for a sequel, although it does wrap most things up. Very good stuff. Now, I must get back to those zombie novels...
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All the characters in Plastic Jesus are lost or broken in one way or another. They're all looking for something that's missing from their lives. For Johnny Lyon, the rawness of a recent bereavement still weighs heavy. He's conflicted, looking for some sort of closure, but in the same breath unable to give up the past. He throws himself into his work and the result is an artificial intelligence designed to help save souls.

While Lyon unwittingly unleashes his own take of "Buddy Christ" onto the world, we also get to meet Paul McBride. He's the local crime boss, and a suitably nasty piece of work he is too. McBride's preferred method of coercion is a kind word and a very, very sharp knife. He has a sinister henchman known only as The Bar Man, and their criminal enterprises manage to inadvertently become caught up with Johnny's narrative.

Soon after I started reading Plastic Jesus, I realised that it reminded me of something. I wracked my brain, I'll admit it took me a while, and eventually it all came flooding back. Many moons ago, in the late nineteen eighties, Pat Mills and Kevin O'Neill created a comic book back called Marshal Law. The eponymous hero patrolled the streets of a grimy metropolis called San Futuro. Everything in this neon-coated candy-land was delightfully sleazy. Crime was rampant and justice was delivered with a heavy hand. Lark City is cut from similarly pre-apocalyptic cloth. Past its best, barely managing to exist, the city and its populace are just about surviving. This was my favourite component of the novel. Lark City is so well observed. There are loads of tiny little details that make the locations seem to come alive. Simmons has created an entire city, and by extension a world, that has been fundamentally changed after the outcome of a violent conflict. Lark City is the perfect backdrop for this particular story.

It's an intriguing idea, attempting to re-boot religion. Hi-tech business has taken a concept that has failed so many in this world and is trying to make it appear palatable again. If I have any criticism I think that it probably lies here. The climax of the novel could have been drawn out a bit more. The Jesus AI has effectively gone all Skynet and this could/should have been explored in a bit more depth. I think perhaps I was hoping for something a bit more visceral and apocalyptic. I liked what was there I just wanted to see more wrath of an electric God type stuff! A digital Armageddon needs a much bigger and bolder canvas.

I rattled through this novel pretty damn quickly. Simmons writes in a short, punchy style that I clicked with immediately, it gives proceedings a nicely noir-ish feel. I was surprised just how quickly I got caught up in the lives of this shabby metropolis. Plastic Jesus reads like it is just a single episode in the larger story of Lark City. It felt as though there were still more stories waiting to be told. I do hope this is a place that the author chooses to revisit again in the future. I'd certainly be more than happy to read more. This story has a touch of sci-fi, a hint of B-movie crime and just a smidge of theological insight. It's an interesting mix of ideas that overall I enjoyed.
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on 9 February 2014
Horror write Wayne Simmons takes a cross-genre roadtrip in Plastic Jesus and, as a first foray into the SCI-FI world, comes up with an immensely readable tale set in a dystopian future.

Virtual Reality is the thrust of this world, mostly used as an escape mechanism from the mundanity and horror of the everyday lives of the people of Lark City, the choice for them is basically between VR addiction or drug addiction.

Johnny Lyon, the main character, is a coder, tasked by a failing corporation to create a VR simulation of Jesus, a Jesus that becomes a personal friend and guide individual to every user. They rush him, he cuts corners and Jesus takes on a life of his own. The Jesus simulation actually takes a background role in the story and is more a vehicle to push the main characters into their places in various set pieces that come together brilliantly at the end. There are some well thought up main characters here, quite a few in fact, that manage to avoid becoming cliched and despite the amount of them, don't disjoint the story or throw the reader back out of the book, as often happens when a story jumps from viewpoint to viewpoint.

If i wanted to pigeon-hole this story i'd say it was Sci-Fi-Noir-Lite. Though not as bleak or heavy as 'Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?', it definitely comes from the same family. The only downside for me is that it wasn't long enough, hence me calling it 'lite'! I wanted more backdrop, i wanted deeper characterisation, but neither of those wants takes away from a story that, come the middle, i was hooked with and, come the end, i didn't want to end.

Wayne Simmons has built his foundations as a story teller in Horror and has no built on them with a move to Sci Fi with an excellent story, which to me shows what a quality writer he is. I look forward to Mr Simmons next foray into the Sci-Fi world and would definitely welcome another visit to Lark City.
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on 21 January 2014
`Plastic Jesus' is the fifth book from writer Wayne Simmons, and it's a slight departure from his previous novels. So, if you're looking for zombie-horror here, you won't find it. Instead, he's written a sci-fi noir thriller much in the style of `Blade Runner' and `Sin City' mixed with a hint of Mega City One and the film `Children of Men'. This is a bold move from the writer and, to be fair, he pulls it off with style, verve and heaps of cyberpunk goodness.
Set in a dystopian future, Lark City is situated off the coast of America, where hedonism and crime is rife, and the streets are full of the desperate and dangerous. An urban jungle stalked by predators in all forms.
Code guy Johnny Lyon, still recovering from his wife's death, is tasked with creating a Jesus social networking AI, to rebrand religion years after a terrible holy war. Something goes wrong. Soon, the streets are in chaos and the city is on the verge of imploding.
It's a story full of grit and filth; you can almost smell the stink of dirty streets and random violence rising off the page. My fingers felt grimy after reading the book, but in a good way. The novel is populated with a menagerie of desperate, lost people. There are some great characters. Johnny is excellently-realised, as are the police chief, Rudlow, and the Bar Man, the local crime lord's henchman and probably my favourite character. The only character I felt could have been developed a bit more was Paul McBride, the crime boss who rules the criminal underworld in Lark City. He wasn't a two-dimensional villain by any means but he didn't quite ring true for me.
`Plastic Jesus' is an excellent novel and proof that Wayne Simmons can turn his hand to other genres as well as horror. It's fast-paced, with prose as lean as a whippet, and peppered with razor-sharp social commentary and observations on religion, technology, and the dark side of human nature.
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on 16 November 2013
For those not familiar with the work of Wayne Simmons, this author is best known for his works Drop Dead Gorgeous, Doll Parts, Flu and Fever: all being zombie tales set in and around Belfast, Northern Ireland. Plastic Jesus is a significant departure from what may be perceived as this author's comfort zone and is a dystopian sci-fi thriller set on a fictional island off the coast of America. Those familiar with the city of Belfast however, may well recognise a few of the landmarks in Lark City...

For me, the world that Simmons created conjured up images of other futuristic tales and was evocative of elements of Robocop, The Running Man, Blade Runner and Mega City One from 2000 AD. In Plastic Jesus, Simmons exposes the grimy underbelly of a society and had it not been for the VR element, this title could easily have been set in the present or indeed the past.

Similar to his preceding works, Simmons develops his character and plot threads individually, ultimately marrying them up without proceedings becoming confusing or overly complex. Much of the plot of Plastic Jesus feels like a noir crime thriller and comes complete with the stalwart policeman, corrupt businessmen, the hooker with a heart and brutal figures from the criminal underworld. However, please don't make the mistake of thinking this book is merely full of tired characters and stereotypes. Simmons has a talent for creating unique characters and striking situations; one scene of torture being particularly well done, without being gruesome simply for the sake of it.

Given the title and subject matter, undoubtedly Simmons will ruffle the feathers of more conservative readers since he has the VR Jesus of the title tap into people's desires and makes comparisons with religion of old, the Roman Empire and people's true religions; which were truly slick. Simmons also utilises issues from today's world to add depth to his tale and expands on problems dominating current affairs.
On a critical note, I felt the ending was a little rushed and in fact, had to re-read a couple of paragraphs nearing the finale to ensure I hadn't missed anything.

Ultimately, Plastic Jesus is a tight, cyberpunk sci-fi thriller which takes elements from many genres and blends them wonderfully into a compelling tale, punctuated by violence, subtle commentary on religion, recent events and the self-serving nature of man.
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on 31 December 2013
Having been a fan of Wayne Simmons for many years I was very excited to see him branch away from the zombie/horror genre and into Sci Fi. I couldn't wait to see what he could do to this genre with his fresh, quick and gritty style of writing.
He did not dissapoint.

Plastic Jesus is a dark and dirty "Noir" tale set in Lark City, a place of everyday folk living their lives surrounded by filth, drugs, corruption and Virtual Reality.
Situated off the coast of America, this "fictional" city has fallen foul of the Law. A place were gangsters rule the streets and drugs are their profits. A place were corporations advertise their goods to the masses with neon lights and VR. A place were a young girl can fall into prostitution and a young man become a theif in the blink of an eye. But it's also a place were an everyday person can live peacefully and work an normal day.
That is until Johnny, a lost soul of a programmer is asked to create a Jesus VR program for the masses.
Then all hell really does break loose.

I found this book to be enthralling. The world Simmons has created reminded me of many futuristic cities we have seen in films such as BLADERUNNER, mixed with a strong dash of Frank Millers SIN CITY.
His characters are strong, believable and easy to understand.
His short, fast chapters keep the pace running and the story exciting.

I really enjoyed this change of direction from the author and I am looking forward to more of this style from him and more of his horror stuff too.
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on 14 May 2014
I enjoyed the book. The tone and general feel resonated enough to get me to the end. But there's very little story. The balance of plot and world building doesn't feel right either way - both are excuses for the other. It feels unfair to try and pigeon hole the style- tech noir with a bit of cyberpunk - but with a premise that's a little out there you need a strong story to pull you in and not ask questions about how we ended up in the world in the same place (a giant las vegas/sex district seceded from the US!). The lack of focus means it's a bit of a distraction
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on 17 April 2016
It's always daunting for a reader to move with an author from one genre of fiction to another. I'm a big fan of Wayne's zombie novels but Plastic Jesus leaves behind the walking dead for a dystopian future. On the face of it, the book is a fast-paced sci-fi thriller but underneath it's a multi-faceted look at the causes and impacts of addiction on a celebrity obsessed, crime riddled society. Perspectives from multiple characters ignite each chapter, move the story forward and colour it all with shades of grey. It's not as simple as good and bad in this book. Insights into each character explain their actions without ringing hollow or dragging down the pace with unnecessary history. Whether it's the grief plagued hero, the detective tilting at windmills or hardline gang boss, all the characters develop beyond the stereotypes they could have so easily become into integral parts of the story. Plastic Jesus is a confident first step outside of Simmons comfort zone which will be hopefully followed up with another novel that shows off the Irish author's skills.
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on 27 July 2015
This is a book about a dystopian future where everyone carries a computer/smartphone and has ports embedded in their heads to allow them to hardwire directly into computers. Sounds great, but unfortunately it seems as if the author barely knows what a computer is, such is the level of cringey inaccuracies throughout the novel. I know that's a really nerdy thing to complain about, but it really detracts from the story when all the ideas and plotlines are so far removed from reality. I don't mean in a fantastical way - clearly one should expect to suspend disbelief in a fantasy novel - I mean the really mundane details about how computers work are so wrong, it just makes you feel as if you're reading a "futuristic" novel from 50 years ago. Black boxes with flashing red lights, viruses that flash things on screen an propagate like living entities, etc. If you're looking for a techno nerd novel, this probably isn't for you!
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