In Playback Effect, Karen Wyle has created a not-very-distant future in which technology has taken virtual reality down a different path, allowing users to experience emotion – whether exhilaration, fear, pleasure or loss – recorded during actual events, through a special helmet. Protagonist Wynne Cantrell, a lucid dreamer, creates and records dreams for this market, allowing customers to experience her emotions and reactions from her purposeful dreams.
When Wynne is a victim of a bomb, planted in a fountain designed by her husband, Hal Wakeman, suspicion falls on Hal and quickly translates to conviction. The punishment in this future world is simple: the criminal is forced to experience, through helmet technology, the suffering of his or her victims, recorded at the crime scene by special technicians. Hal begins his punishment by experiencing Wynne’s emotions, only to be reprieved by the governor.
Hal works to clear his name, reluctantly working with a detective who is not-so-secretly in love with Wynne. But as he does so, he notices his own world-view and reactions changing – or is it just him? Is there an unrevealed side effect to experiencing another’s emotions?
All of could have been the premise for a nuanced and considered examination of how and what we can ever hope to understand with regard to another human being, and what being privy to the true reactions and emotions of another could – for good or bad – mean for human relationships and self-knowledge. While competently written for the most part, I found Playback Effect basically bland. Characters seemed not to have any real difficulties, even in what should have been tense and emotion-ridden situations; too often I felt I was being told what Wynne or Hal – or other characters – were thinking or experiencing, rather than being shown.
After the resolution of the major conflict of the story, the novel becomes a bit disjointed as it attempts to clear up loose ends and create a happy and hopeful ending; the story may have benefited from more time explaining Wynne’s new dream work and its uses. I would classify Playback Effect as a romance novel, using a technological twist and some legal wrangling as the catalysts forcing a reaction in Wynne and Hal’s relationship, not a science fiction novel. Fans of Nicholas Sparks (I am not among that group) are likely to find Playback Effect satisfying. Three stars.
The author provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.