In an ever-crowded literary RPG (LitRPG) genre, “The Feedback Loop” stands out as unique, entertaining, and imaginative. Take many of the components from Groundhog Day, The Matrix, and The Fifth Element, blend them up into a cyberpunk noir storyline and you get a good idea of what you can expect in The Feedback Loop. It is the first in a series of three books available in all your favorite formats. The book is splendidly written by Harmon Cooper and the audiobook narration is performed exceptionally well by none other than the master of audiobook narration; Jeff Hays. The book is a bit shorter then I would have expected for the first volume in a series, however it does finish up at a good point and the book contains very little fluff used simply to expend the page count. I will say I wanted more when it ended and was happy to be able to jump right into the second book in the series providing my needed fix. No need to wait for other books in the series to be released as they are currently all available in audiobook format at the time of this review.
The story itself is nothing revolutionary to those familiar with the genre. A person is trapped in a virtual world and needs to save his life by finding a means of escape. However, the way this story is told along with its flow, humor, and technology makes it feel new and exciting. Unlike with most in the LitRPG genre, this one is not a fantasy world but instead a gritty and grimy cyberpunk environment. Think of being virtually immersed in a game of Shadowrun, yet you are living the same day’s events over and over for what appears to be years; the Groundhog Day experience. Then, one day, things appear to change from the normal routine. This is where the story hooks you and you will not want to put it down. The expert writing along with Jeff’s superb narration makes you feel you are a part of the story he whole way through.
I enjoyed the use of humor in the book as it helped to alleviate the tension and gritty feel of the world the characters were a part of. At times, I had to laugh out loud when the main character took specific actions trying to make his mundane situation a bit more entertaining for him. There may seem like a limited number of ways someone can kill another in this world, but our hero keeps finding new and interesting ways. When you have a continuous daily loop memorized because it has been experienced over and over, one needs to spice things up a bit, and he succeeds doing it. One of his favorite activities was summed up when he was speaking to another character and told them that violence is always the answer to anything in the game; and it shows.
The game and the cyberpunk story world were very well setup and executed within the book. Afterwards you may feel like taking a shower to clean off all the dirt and grime. Although the characters were overall deep and likable, I would have enjoyed having a bit more detail on their backgrounds, histories, and reasons for being in the situations they were. I can only assume this information will be revealed more and more as we dive into the other books of the series. The story includes some aspects of relationships and their importance when attempting to not only survive in the world but also escape this looping world of events. There is love, joy, action, and sadness as the tale unfolds and we begin to learn more about not only our main character, but the world he has become a part of. I liked the standard stereotypical weapons found in a cyberpunk world such as shotguns and laser pistols, but also a myriad of other fun and interesting weapons to choose from that the author included.
Jeff Hays takes any piece of fiction, or non-fiction, and make it better with his ability to flawlessly narrate just about anything. However, when he is given a great piece of work to narrate, it comes out like a symphony where all the parts blend together to make beautiful music. It may seem a bit strong using this analogy, but it really is the best way I can describe the impact and ability of his narration skills. I have listened to a number of books he has narrated, and I have never been disappointed; and this book is no exception. When I write audiobook reviews, Jeff is the standard by which I rate everything else. He puts his heart and passion into his work and it shows every time. He is one of the only male narrators who pulls off narrating female characters in a believable way. Many of his characters have very unique and distinguishable voices, not only in this book, but in all his narrated works. Jeff is also able to weave into his reviews some subtle recording extras and never over uses them; for example, the muffled voice of someone talking over a telephone, etc. The audio is professionally produced and it does not contain any noticeable audio artifacts.
For parents or young readers, this book is set in a futuristic world having a dark and shadier feel to the environment. The author does use vulgar language at times, there are scenes involving and discussing sex, alcohol, and drug usage. There are times of intense violence, some of it humorous or light-hearted, but others not. I do not feel it is overly used, but take note if any of the above offends you or you are wondering if this book would be good for a younger reader.
In summary, if you like the LitRPG genre and are looking for an exceptionally well-presented cyberpunk environment, I recommend you pick up “Feedback Loop”. The story telling along with the book’s narration make it an immersive world that when you are done, you just want to jump right back in. Even if you are not a fan of the genre, I recommend you give this book a try as you may find something new and exciting that you never knew existed.
Disclaimer: I was voluntarily provided this review copy audiobook at no charge by the author, publisher and/or narrator.