cover image Side Life

Side Life

Steve Toutonghi. Soho, $26 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-61695-889-3

Toutonghi’s second novel (after Join) explores ideas of consciousness and parallel universes in ways that are intellectually engaging but emotionally detached. After Vin is ousted as CEO of the Seattle technology company he created, his father arranges for him to house-sit for enigmatic and reclusive genius Nerdean. The mystery of where Nerdean has gone and what she’s doing rivets Vin. When he uncovers a lab in the house’s sub-basement, he can’t resist entering one of the three coffinlike “crèches” he finds there. At first he thinks the crèche induces lucid dreaming, but when he climbs back out to find the world around him subtly changed, he realizes Nerdean’s experiments have far-reaching consequences. He repeatedly jumps into the minds of others, controlling their actions in ethically questionable ways, and takes unabashed advantage of his reemergence into parallel worlds that suit him better than the one he originated in. Vin’s self-centered behavior and attitude raise moral questions that often remain unanswered by the narrative. Other characters—including a cat Vin callously stops feeding at one point—serve primarily as props on his philosophical journey. This exploration of parallel worlds is a thrilling thought exercise, but Toutonghi’s vision of the near future is alarmingly sapped of empathy. Agent: David Forrer, InkWell Management. (May)