The Messiah Virus by Meihan Boey
Full disclosure: I’m a sucker for pop sci-fi—bursts of crazy ideas and wild action—so The Messiah Virus had me right from its premise.
The Empress, the operating system for the vast colonised universe, has been disabled by a mysterious virus. A little Psion girl named Faitma is the only hope the Empress has of getting back online. She’s backed by an unlikely, initially unwilling, and ultimately undaunted team that consists of Christine, a cyborg karang guni junk-trader, and July Wong, the universe’s most famous courtesan. There’s a certain kind of electric energy to The Messiah Virus that feels very punk rock. It reads like a cult 80s movie that’s been remixed by a more enlightened, 21st century woman. Or, to put it another way, think the wonderfully ragtag vibe of Buckaroo Banzai meets Kelly Sue DeConnick’s inspiring Captain Marvel.
Meihan Boey’s work prior to this, her debut novel, was writing comics, so her influences shine brighter than a star going supernova. Her seemingly free flow of insane concepts, which still all come together in a solid narrative, for example? That’s totally reminiscent of Mark Millar and Frank Quitely’s The Authority. What elevates The Messiah Virus even further though is that the entire story’s wrapped up with genuine humanity and heart. You see this in all her main characters—whether it’s July’s sudden wave of grief or the gradual melting of Christine’s gruff exterior—but it definitely comes through the most in the relationship between Nurse Clerica Parvati and Lady Superior Octavia. The pacing, like a lot of the dialogue, is tight, fast-paced and sharp. It reminds me a little of Corey J. White’s Voidwitch trilogy of novellas—solid character moments punctuated by, as Meihan herself puts it, lots of “pew pew bang bang ker-ba-boom” space adventure and action.
I’ve thrown a lot of comparisons into this review, and for good reason. The Messiah Virus sits comfortably on a shelf with any of the titles mentioned above. Wickedly smart, viciously funny, cleverly paced and just wonderfully human—do yourself a favour, crank up something with a beat, then sit down with this fantastic trip through a wild universe.
by Wayne Rée