I believe that humorous science fiction is hard to write. I’m not talking about humorous banter or moments within a book — many writers excel at that — but books that are conceived as comical stories from the start. Humor requires the balance of many elements and crucial timing. Even if those things are present, a sense of humor is hard to quantify, and a technically funny book may fail to entertain for some ephemeral reason.
Vincent Scott, however, is unafraid, and tackles humor in his 2020 comic cyberpunk novel The Hereafter Bytes. Right on the cover, it says, “A Funny Sci Fi Novel,” allowing you to judge it by that metric. And for me, it succeeded.
I read an ARC of this book and blurbed it. I usually raise my eyebrows at comic SF, but I enjoyed this book both times I read it. It’s funny. Sometimes the humor is labored, but there are great characters, strong friendships and a story that held my interest.
Romeo Smith is an asexual college dropout, living his life in a futuristic Seattle — right up until he’s killed in a bus-versus-car accident. Due to technological advances, Romeo’s consciousness is captured digitally. He is a Digital American, also called a “ghost.” Romeo’s friend Izy, who runs a server farm that mostly houses Digital Americans, has downloaded Romeo’s consciousness into a delivery robot. Suddenly, Romeo’s other friend Abigail reaches out to him. Abigail, a dominatrix who runs a thriving BDSM business, needs Romeo’s help. While legally it’s acceptable to activate a “ghost” of a person who has physically died, digitally copying yourself and activating that copy while you’re alive is illegal. Abigail, however, has done just that, for a specific work-related reason. Now her digital self has discovered an important corporate secret and disappeared. Abigail asks Romeo to find her.
Romeo’s search in cyberspace and physical space lead him to the corporate headquarters of the megacorporation that invented the digitization process, and in very little time both the FBI and a terrifyingly polite, body-augmented assassin are after Romeo, Abigail and Izy. Romeo’s delivery-robot body is used to fuel much of the humor, of a slapstick kind. Romeo is not a mecha, not even C-3PO. He can only lift about 20 pounds and has a cruising speed that most people can pass at a brisk walk. These vulnerabilities play for laughs, and forces Romeo to become even more inventive to escape all the folks chasing him.
Romeo also dithers when he is nervous, and is one of those people who can never find the menu option when someone is trying to walk him through a settings change. This was hilarious — and since I am also one of those people, I felt personally attacked. (Just kidding.) In the brief moments of downtime, Romeo discusses a few of the technological and sociological changes that have led us to his world.
Romeo is a comic non-hero, but the book does not rely solely on him. Abigail and Izy are strong women, complicated characters and loyal friends. A digital friend, Sanav, is probably the least developed character in the book, but he has an interesting backstory. The story’s villain is suitably corporate and soulless, with the added benefit of making good sense in some of her arguments. I liked all of the interactions; I chuckled at the FBI agents who practically finish each other’s sentences, and, while some went on too long, I liked the action bits. The book sparkled, though, when we were in cyberspace, or when Romeo is skewering society (like their visit to a chat room where the Podcast Podcast meets — a podcast about the best podcasts).
As I said, some of the action sequences went on a bit long for me. I noticed it, but it didn’t dent my enjoyment of the social commentary, the banter, and these delightful characters.
The book could use a slightly closer eye in the copy edit area; some mistakes were distracting. Ultimately, though, the book delivers in all the crucial areas for me. It is funny, it’s exciting, it made me stop and think, and it was an entertaining read that gave me a few hours of enjoyment. A funny book, a fun read.