A 2009 stand-alone science fiction novel by Ryan Grabow. The e-book was originally released on the author's website under a Creative Commons license. Splashdown Books released a paperback version in 2011.
Brandon Dauphin lives in a rapidly accelerating world. Shocking trends emerge daily, louder is better, and the powerful stimulant PJX is found in almost everything (by popular demand). A sagging economy and cheap, reliable artificial intelligence have conspired to put people out of work. Not everyone minds the free time, though. Games have never been more realistic.
As everyone heeds the command to indulge, Brandon is overcome by the questions and doubt raging in his mind. Everyone has grown distant. Life has become cheap and fleeting. Veronica is the only pillar he has left. Their long-distance relationship doesnít fail like the others, and Brandon plans to propose marriage. Even in this, though, hope eludes him. Reality is slipping further and further away.
Brandon retreats to the illusions of Dynamic Reality, a global computer network in which simulations are completely real. But when the AI characters act strangely and his war-game begins tearing itself apart, Brandon struggles to find a way out. He finds himself back in a real world that isnít so real and encounters a strange woman named Aether. He doesnít understand what the hacker wants but she threatens to kill him if he doesnít cooperate in her experiment. Brandon senses the threats are real, but Aether is hiding something.
The woman isnít a hacker, but a computer virus.
Brandon has become trapped in Dynamic Realityís worst case scenario, but with the virusís self-awareness came something else, something beyond her destructive programming that sheís committed to uncover. Aether asks whether her existence is a lie, and her pursuit to understand the truth has led her to study the race that created hers, and to study the world they live in as only a virus would.
Caffeine questions our definitions of good and evil, and treats the existence of a world we canít see as inevitable. If ordinary AIs are said to become self-aware, why not the viruses based on them? Can God love an entity programmed only to destroy? Can a destroyer ever see beyond her programming?
There is no going back. Aether will force him to choose between his love and his hate, and Brandon will need to overcome the noise of modern culture to learn what it means to be human all over again, before the illusion he has become is gone forever.
This novel provides examples of:
- A Good Name For A Sledg-ek Band: Eleven Under, Aiming for Wednesday.
- Always Chaotic Evil: Chaos comes with a malvirai's self-awareness. Their misguided attempts to restore "order," without regard for self-preservation, makes them even more destructive and short-lived than normal malvirai.
- Arc Words: "I have a desire and nothing else matters."
- Bittersweet Ending: The destructiveness of sin only becomes clear to Brandon when he becomes a murderer.
- Blatant Lies: "Yes. If it helps you, then consider me a 'hacker.'"
- Chekhov's Armoury: Playing cards, five-three error codes, dancing trees, points of light, Brandon's pistol.
- Chekhov's Gunmen: The kid from Slammers and the sandcastle builder.
- Christian Sledg-ek
- Commercial Pop-Up: Holographic technology has brought this to Real Life.
- Designer Babies: "Veetoos" are created in a lab from engineered DNA. Both of Veronica's parents and her younger brother are veetoos, though Veronica herself was a natural child.
- Easter Egg: The access key for Brandon's ascension booth.
- Emotionless Girl: Aether starts out as this (when her anger is abated), but her learning to manage emotions becomes a central part of the story.
- Fake-Out Opening: The first couple of pages seem to be set in the 1930's, but the movie theater is revealed to be a DR construct.
- Foreshadowing: The aforementioned movie theater. The reader is given an illusion, which Brandon is trying to accept as real, but it is gradually torn down.
- Future Slang: Statick, Random, Wheeled, Slunk, Bell Ringer, Veetoo, Rek Rek Rek
- Holographic Terminal: Though more advanced users don't need them, thinking the commands instead.
- I'll Kill You!: The only encouragement a malvirai knows how to offer.
- Inside a Computer System: Dynamic Reality is a virtual reality internet.
- Involuntary Shapeshifting: A medieval game becomes a fantasy game. Brandon becomes an elf.
- iProduct: Many modern words end with the letter 'K.'
- Magic A Is Magic A: Brandon can't bend the rules of the games anymore.
- Meaningful Name: Aether is the medium science once believed light waves traveled on.
- Mysterious Watcher: Aether, when Brandon thinks he's in the real world.
- Not So Stoic: Veronica when they first met. Also Aether, first with anger then with sorrow.
- The Power of Friendship: Malvirai have no concept of peaceful interaction or friendship. Aether's unprecedented exploration of humanity leads Brandon to make an unprecedented offer.
- Science Marches On: In-universe example. The date the dinosaurs went extinct has changed at least twice.Aether: "The age of the production is irrelevant. Facts do not change."
- Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: JF, the Patrolman.
- Self-Inflicted Hell: What the vision of paradise is revealed to be.
- Voluntary Shapeshifting: Because human vanitars can get so mundane...
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: Aether starts to become this, plotting to destroy Dynamic Reality itself, so humans can appreciate the real world again.
- What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Brandon proposes legal recognition of self-aware AIs. Aether doesn't think it's a good idea.
- Winged Humanoid: The angels in paradise, and the one who rescues Brandon and Aether from it.
- World of Ham: In-universe example, onboard The Intergalactic.
- Year Inside, Hour Outside: Aether's perception of time changes when she's living through her vanitar.