There’s always a point, when reading a book, when you think you’ve figured out exactly how the plot is going to resolve itself, and for some books this is easier guesswork than others. Grimbargo is definitely not one of those novels, though it will trick you into believing so repeatedly. It’s wonderfully confusing, complex, and predictably unpredictable.
The narrative alternates between the two protagonists, Jamie and Jackie, as they are pulled out of their everyday lives as a tour guide and a journalist (respectively) and told to embark on a crazy and mysterious trip to Kyoto, where someone has died. This wouldn’t seem like an overly valid excuse to fly halfway across the world, except the book is set 35 years in the future when a worldwide ‘Greywash’ has caused humans to become immortal. Any injuries or illnesses they may sustain simply repair themselves by replacing the cells with tiny artificial nanobots. Not only can people no longer die, but they cannot age, either. Everyone is trapped in the exact body they possessed ten years ago, when the Greywash happened. So, a body in an otherwise abandoned morgue is kind of a big deal.
Before they leave, Jamie receives a message via computer warning her to steal her supervisor’s hard drive, and not to trust her. Jamie finds herself torn between choosing between cryptic messages on a hard drive and one of the founders of the organisation she was raised in – and neither of them end up looking particularly reliable. Jackie, on the other hand, is busy setting up meetings with writers of anonymous text messages and dragging Jamie off to secret desolate warehouses to try to unravel some secrets for her big news piece.
The girls discover that a man named George Okada – notable for being the very last person to die pre-Greywash – left behind a cluster of children, produced from an experiment, and all of whom now carry the Okada Anomaly, a strain of DNA which means they are not immune to death, disease and injury. After the woman behind this information is kidnapped, Jamie and Jackie are left in charge of Okada’s granddaughter Sachi, with the added stress of knowing that she could die if they don’t look after her well enough.
This seems like a pretty normal task, but Jamie and Jackie are being chased by a whole manner of agents and authorities for rebelling against a plan, years in the making, to create a second Greywash that will give three women authority over all humankind. Would make a change for women to be in power, to be fair, but this isn’t the kind of female empowerment we hope for – these three ladies plan to reduce everyone to cyborgs by inflicting them with a deadly disease that will cause all their cells to be replaced with nanobots. From there, they can control the nanobots and ultimately destroy every ounce of humanity.
All the while, the artificial intelligence that was talking to Jamie from a computer rooted itself in both hers and Jackie’s minds, and gives them guidance on how to get themselves out of these extremely sticky – and bloody – situations and back to the huge computer system where they can stop the second Greywash from going ahead.
And do they trust this AI? Of course not – the girls have to repeatedly follow its instructions, knowing full well it is manipulating them because they have the ability to move around and physically get things done, something a computer cannot do itself, for obvious reasons. Finding themselves constantly having to choose the lesser of two evils to submit to gets boring very quickly for Jackie in particular, and they end up staging their own kind of revolution.
With a bit of help from a suicide club (don’t ask) and some Okada-infected blood, they just about worm their way out of trouble and drive off happy and injured into the sunset. If only the artificial intelligence had given up when it was expelled from their minds…
Grimbargo is a fun yet completely dystopian novel full of countless twists and turns – and shootings. It’s been easy to read, never boring in the slightest, and a good distraction from all the real reasons humanity is doomed. We’ve not caught on to immortality just yet, I believe, and Grimbargo is proof that that’s probably a good thing.