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REVIEW: Encoded, by T.W. Talent

Title: Encoded

Author: T.W. Talent

Genre: Romance/Cyberpunk

LGBTQ+ Category: Gay

Publisher: Self

Pages: 195

Reviewer: Olivia

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About The Book

Alex needs the knowledge in his head to avoid getting caught committing various cyber crimes and to keep on the move, or else he will suffer at the mercy of the Security Office that holds sway over the city. 

Getting his memories swapped with security guard Tristan’s after an accident with an outdated memory scanner is the absolute worst thing that could happen. Horrified, furious, and moments away from getting caught and arrested, Alex makes the snap decision to take Tristan with him to search for a solution. Together, they escape the scene of Alex’s crime, their swapped memories swirling together as they go. 

Keeping Tristan at arm’s length is hard enough as their memories mix. Being around a stranger who instantly knows you–and many of your faults–better than most of your friends do is unsettling. Alex hates it. He hates Tristan. But the more time they spend together, working toward fixing their memories and learning more about each other while they do, the more Alex finds himself growing attached. 

By the time Alex and Tristan put their memories back where they belong, they may have so many shared ones that leaving each other behind is impossible. 

But a hacker and an officer of the security forces? 


That’s impossible. 

Isn’t it? 

The Review

Worldbuilding (Four Stars): Set in a very relatable pulp-sci-fi world with ‘What Happened To Monday’ vibes, a world where The Office runs all parts of citizens’ lives in the City, this is a fun new entry in the classic Stick It To The Man anarchist niche of the cyberpunk genre. Alex, our clever hacker, is embedded in a support network of young punks, good friends and solid work for the cause of freedom. He messes with data to get activists off trumped-up charges. He hides people’s data from the Office surveillance checks. And he runs missions.

It’s one of these missions where things. Go. Sideways. All the way.

The world feels as well-worn and frayed as your favorite ratty sweater, very real and very familiar to fans of the cyberpunk genre. I would have liked a little more scope in the story to allow the reader a greater sense of the stakes, but it didn’t really fit in this intimate little work. I did note the lack though, and it gave the world-building a slightly claustrophobic cast. Given that this story is tightly focused on one young man up against a megalithic system, that’s not all bad. I hope there will be a next book expanding on the situation and giving us a stronger sense of what’s going on.

Characterization (Four Stars): Tightly focused as this novella is on four people, there’s plenty of room to make each character breathe. That’s exactly what Talent does, living up to his name quite well (sorry, sorry, couldn’t resist). Alex is a loner by choice and lonely by nature. He plays it a lot tougher than he needs to, protecting himself with a coat of swagger, sarcasm and hyperfocus. He hasn’t realized how touch-starved he really is until Tristan, his antithesis and his balance in life philosophy and general temperament, gets shoved into his life. Tristan, the Golden Retriever to Alex’s stray cat strut of a persona, bumbles his way through his life with the implicit trust of a young man who the system has served well. Alex knows better, and he wears his armor of sarcasm and distance well. Allowing the two characters to inadvertently share memories and parts of their minds allows for some truly fascinating interpersonal dynamics to emerge, along with a lot of neat questions about what makes a person themselves.

The dynamic  internal and external tug between these young men is balanced nicely by the stable, reliable long-term couple who are Alex’s good friends. Monica is a classic take-no-shit street chick with a heart of gold, and Daniel, her easy-going guy, is a sweetheart. The couple is ENTHUSIASTICALLY in love, and seeing that kind of healthy and joyful romance allows the story to lighten up in all the right places. Monica’s a lot of fun, and while we don’t get to see a lot of Daniel’s complexity, he’s great company along the way.

Writing Style (Four Stars): Clear and clean, the style is good. I have only two points that could use a little work: 

A) I’d love to see a touch more editing. There was nothing disastrous by any means, but a bit of this and that could use tidying. Oh the life of an indie author…

B) the author’s trying for a touch of Newspeak, cutting out the nouns in certain sentences and replacing it with a descriptive word. For example, if a character spilled a soda on the table, the usual sentence would read:
He spilled sticky soda across the table

The author goes for:

He spilled sticky across the table

It’s interesting, but then the author uses what I think is their natural vocabulary level in other areas, and it jolts the brain. Are we reading the thoughts of a street kid who thinks in slang or a well educated person? Keeping the voice strong throughout would have been nice. It’s nothing particularly harmful, but an attentive reader will occasionally re-read a sentence and think ‘wait, what?’

Plot (Four Stars): Rather than a true cyberpunk, I’d classify this as a LGBT romance in a cyberpunk setting. It’s the very sweet, very powerful story of a young man who’s distanced himself from life being grabbed by his lapels and reminded that he’s alive. It’s a lovely slow burn romance spiced with sarcasm, and it’s a great story of vulnerability and the lessons of honesty we must learn, with ourselves and with others, in order to find joy.

Overall Rating: Four Stars

This is a sweet, sparky and unexpectedly sensual little story. For a novella, it packs a punch. Grab a copy! 

The Reviewer

Olivia Wylie is a jack of all trades and a master of none. Trained in horticulture, she writes ethnobotany and horticulture under her own name and queer climate change fiction with a hopeful twist under the pen name of O.E. Tearmann. She lives in Colorado with a very patient partner and a rather impatient cat.


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