Manumission (The Metaform series Book 1) by E.R. Harding — Imperfect but interesting Sci-Fi Origin Story

            This Sci-Fi story has many layers and many characters.  It is truly an origin story and might be best thought of as the prequel to the rest of the series.  The world in which it is set, who the villains really are, and what’s really happening are all revealed slowly as the many tendrils of the plot meander in their own directions.  It is not easy to navigate the early chapters, and there are a few false leads, but eventually, the plot threads come together and the reader has the chance to figure out what’s really happening.  It’s not an easy journey, but if you have the patience to get there, there’s a lot to consider. 

            The main feature of this world is the Metaform, a massive computer database created long ago and programmed by five people – the “directors” – who uploaded their minds into the computer.  Since then, all humans want to be uploaded so that they can then be downloaded into an artificial bio-frame where they can live hundreds of years in near-perfect bodies.  But all is not well with the world, as normal humans who oppose the Metaform try to sabotage it, while others, who work for the Metaform, try to protect it.

            The story is told through several different perspectives, including the original directors in their original time frame, a first -person narrative of a terrorist/freedom fighter who is trying to infiltrate the Metaform in order to destroy it, and the stories of several other characters who don’t initially appear to be connected.  The author’s style takes some getting used to as most of the story is told in past-tense narratives of things that happened to the characters that they are remembering in expositive bursts rather than in real-time action.  The shifting perspectives are at times confusing, and in many cases the plot action could have been better executed as present-time narrative, but ultimately the intricate plot finds its own voice.

            There is very little detail provided about how this world works – what the politics are like, what the conditions are for the humans and the downloaded “reloads,” why the police are so dedicated to the Metaform, or anything else about the world of the Metaform other than what we learn from the inside out.  It’s also not entirely clear who the terrorists (or religious cult members?) are or why they were so bent on destroying the Metaform.  And yet, there is a lot of potential in this world, and much story left for subsequent books as the people and the virtual people struggle to contain the Metaform.

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