The very first scene of “The Sensory Deception,” a newly released science fiction novel by Petaluma author Ransom Stephens, drops the reader directly into an action sequence of war. In the first chapter, we are introduced to fire, death, and the hint of sexuality. In the next, we’re in a dark cave of prisoners on the verge of escape.
These first two chapters give a glimpse into the story in real time before it moves into the back-story. This is a common writing trick – to capture the reader’s attention with the most crucial of scenes before diving into what happened before everything went to pot. And it works. I was left wondering what those first two chapters meant the whole time I read “The Sensory Deception,” with only hints towards the answer until the grand finale.
Admittedly, the book started out slow once past those first two action-packed chapters. But the scenes that follow are vital to explain the premise of the story.
A group made up of a scientist, a neurologist, and an engineer have come together to create VirtExReality, a virtual reality video game they hope to use to create environmentalists out of viewers. But to call it mere virtual reality is an understatement. These independent producers have managed to saturate the senses of anyone experiencing the virtual reality system, allowing them to step into the role to feel and think like the subject of the program – as if they were truly living the experience.
This show of sensory saturation is introduced when they demonstrate the product to Gloria, the venture capitalist hired to find funds for the product. She’s strapped into the program and is suddenly thrust into the life of a polar bear. She experiences the bear’s hunger, how it feels to hunt and feed on seals, and the journey that leads beyond the ice and into imminent danger.
From this first glimpse into the virtual reality system, Gloria goes from rising venture capitalist to a cash-strapped part of the team, bent on finding the funding for a project of this magnitude without compromising the underlying message of environmental awareness they hope to instill into the masses. But that’s the tricky part – convincing companies with deep pockets that this environmental product can compete with the fast-paced media being churned to the short-attention-spanned public.
To do this, the team promises potential investors the ultimate in environmental adventures – a fight to the death between a sperm whale bull and a giant squid. It’s a hefty promise, but it does the trick. If they can deliver, VirtExReality will hit the market fully funded with a potential to rake in the big bucks while also shining a spotlight on the group’s cause.
And that’s when things get difficult.
In the quest for the ever-evasive whale, the team comes upon several huge snags. They’re faced with pirates, skepticism, questionable methods for success, and danger far beyond what any of them (save for one character with an apparent death wish) have signed up for. Soon, the urgency to create a worthy virtual reality sequence becomes a literal life or death situation.
As author of “The Sensory Deception,” Ransom Stephens’ imagination is limitless in his ability to lead the reader through scenarios across the globe. As a scientist, Stephens flexes reality beyond the average person’s understanding, bringing unfamiliar concepts to light.
There were times I felt a bit lost as I read, unable to comprehend where the story was going when things began to get too detailed or technical. I had a hard time initially connecting with the characters, mostly due to the way the storyline jumped rapidly to each person’s point of view and different locales. And it’s safe to say that certain scenes would have fared better with a brief description rather than a lengthy narrative.
But overall, “The Sensory Deception” is a worthy read with fascinating concepts. Once the story migrated from process details and launched headfirst into a non-stop stream of action, my senses were saturated until the very last page.