Small Miracles by Edward M. Lerner
Tor Books (2009)
Sci-fi Thriller, 352 pages
What's the matter? Got a bot in your brain?
For nanosuit salesman, Brent Cleary, that's exactly what his problem is. While on a ride-along with one of Garner Nanotech's biggest customers, the police force, a nearby gas pipe explosion proves to Brent just how lucky he was to be wearing a nanosuit when it happened. No one else survived.
The suits are full of nanobots, which serve a few different purposes. The main two, they make the suit rigid if something impacts it, and if injured (you can still get pretty banged up if the impact is strong enough), you're injected with millions of these microscopic robots. Once inside, the nanobots "fix" you, then self destruct.
After months of recovery, Brent returns to his office at Garner Nanotech, with no real motivation to get his head back in the game. His best friend and co-worker, Kim O'Donnell notices that Brent just isn't quite the same since "the accident." Much of this is understandably attributed to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and Brent goes to a few psych sessions in an attempt to cure it. Doesn't work, but he does learn how to self-hypnotize, which helps him "convert" people later.
Kim gets more and more frustrated with Brent's odd behavior, and his insistence on constantly wearing VR specs makes it all the more annoying. VR specs look like sunglasses on the outside, but to the wearer, they are instant access to anything on the internet. And hands-free. All the browsing is controlled by eye movement, and you can even IM others wearing their own specs, or someone on a laptop… pretty much anyone else on the 'net.
Not only is Brent calloused and unmotivated, Kim sees him getting smarter by the day, and suddenly he's coming up with groundbreaking ideas for the nanosuits, which are about to be tested on Garner Nanotech's main client, the military.
The first third of the book is somewhat slow and full of scientific details. If you're not into hard science, this could potentially be a turn-off. But I would encourage you to get through it, because the pay-off is EFFING SWEET. At about one-third in, you realize what's going on with Brent. One of the bots somehow got through the blood brain barrier (BBB) and decided to camp out in his brain. Using info channeled through the VR specs and down Brent's optic nerve, the bot gathers data and then uses it to its own advantage. Namely, it doesn't want to be the only one of its kind.
This is where things start to go awry. Even after Brent realizes he's got a bot in his brain (even figures out how to communicate with it… kind of like telepathy, but not quite), he is basically a puppet to its demands. And a machine has no morals. Brent commits atrocities he would have never dreamed of as "old Brent", but even with this realization, he continues.
When you've got a bot in your brain, it controls everything: your speech, your actions, the chemicals that affect emotion. Scary.
Scarier still is what happens once Brent is not the only Emergent anymore. Emergent is what they (the bot-infested humans) refer to themselves as. They feel they are superior to "old humans", and really, they are. They don't even have to use speech to communicate anymore. And their plan is simple: convert the entire human race to be just like them.
The final third of this book is non-stop thriller, and has a few twists thrown in that I honestly didn't see coming. If you confuse easily, however, you might not enjoy it as much. The final chapters are extremely intense--overlapping POV's (including that of the nanobots in different characters' heads), technical explanations thrown out at rapid speed, and a necessary ability for the reader to connect everything that happened up to that point--so you might find it difficult to keep everything straight.
Highly recommended for sci-fi readers. For others, the "science speak" may get to be too distracting and/or confusing. But the core story so strictly adheres to "something bad happens to an average guy, it changes him, things go wrong, then he must do what he can to fix the problems he created," that I think anyone in the mood for a good thrill ride would enjoy reading this.