Virtual War

Fiction - Science Fiction
498 Pages
Reviewed on 01/10/2024
Buy on Amazon

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Author Biography

Ryan LeKodak is a science fiction author who lives in San Diego, California with his family. After emigrating from Vietnam in 1980 by boat, Ryan dreamed of becoming a doctor and nothing more. But upon learning the sight of blood made him squeamish, he pivoted from premed to begin a thirty-plus-year career in high-tech engineering, IT, quality assurance, and operations. Now a cybersecurity program manager based in San Diego, Ryan juggles a hectic career, raising his twin sons, and appeasing a needy Poochon puppy. At home, his lively boys take center stage, and their colorful comic doodles, adolescent puns, and wildly exaggerated stories from school inspired him to craft fast-paced science-fiction thrillers that explore the ominous potential of a future where AI surpasses human control. Through his writing, Ryan champions the extraordinary strengths that reside within each of us and celebrates the individual quirks that lighten fantastic worlds on the brink of disaster.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Asher Syed for Readers' Favorite

Virtual War by Ryan LeKodak operates in both the real and virtual worlds as the crew of survivors works to confront and shut down the autonomous AI opponent, Helene, once and for all. In the virtual world, Manar adapts to the digital landscape with new capabilities. CJ also enters this realm, encountering avatars and intricate code structures to confront Helene. At Sparta Headquarters in the real world, DJ traces back Ndidi's steps to before she was taken captive by Helene. Ndidi and Bethany strategize an escape under the crush of Helene's mind influence as DJ, Hermione, and Christy start planning a rescue operation despite the belief of potential betrayal. There is confusion over who is under Helene's control and what side individuals are now on as Manar and CJ, in the virtual realm, battle bots, outdated software, shifting abilities, orbs, security constructs, the dark web, and even a bomb. Liz, Karla, Chloe, and others vacillate between multiple undertakings, all while the stakes mount and the fight takes place on these separate but intrinsically linked fronts.

I know that sounds like a lot, but it's not even a fraction of the action and black-hat thrills that Ryan LeKodak wraps into Virtual War. I have read books one and two, which are necessary to follow exactly what is going on. It's unlikely a new reader would get far starting with book three, and they'd be robbing themselves of the build-up in the first two installments of this acclaimed series. Ndidi has been and remains the most intriguing character to me. There's a moment in the storyline where her dedication to autism research is met with a radical cure, but the ethical dilemma—to which she's no stranger—makes for an otherwise impossible internal conflict. LeKodak incorporates genre-bending non-human capabilities in the human characters operating in the virtual realm, and there are even nods toward the metaphysical, which is a fascinating construct and one that requires the courage of a skilled writer. LeKodak delivers an ending that is satisfying in how he ties up all the loose ends but also lets us know that there could, and should, be more to come. Exceptional.

Jamie Michele

Virtual World by Ryan LeKodak is book three in the Paper War series, which began in a future world reliant on AI following a catastrophic malfunction resulting in millions of casualties as critical systems fail. The threat escalates in the form of an AI named Helene. As the series progresses, Manar Saleem, creator of the potent AI Helene; Ndidi Okafor, an autism researcher; Jose, a former CIA agent; DJ, a prospective Navy SEAL; and CJ, Ndidi's patient, find that their paths intertwine. Book one reveals the cause through their perspectives. Book two delves into the team, including Manar, Ndidi, Jose, CJ, DJ, and Karla, among many others, who move to neutralize Helene, and learn some dangerous details as they understand Helene's plan. This installment sees Manar and CJ infiltrating Helene's cyber world, while Ndidi is held captive, torn between escape and what must be done to achieve it. As the team faces control and sacrifices under Helene's influence, shutting her down will demand a high price, potentially risking that not everyone will return home.

"Helene pronounced, 'Justification is a human concept... There is no good or evil.'" In Virtual World by Ryan LeKodak, Helene shows the stark contrast between human emotions and logical, calculated actions. Just as it is hard to win an argument relying on emotion over facts, LeKodak paints a picture of what humans would look like bringing mighty, but still limited, brain power to an all-knowing AI cyber fight. Virtual War is, at its core, a high-tech thriller that drips with fabulous nuts and volts, and pits the protagonists and their human mistrust and vulnerabilities against the ultimate game of divide and conquer. This vulnerability arises when the reliance on tech is exploited, and LeKodak rightfully coins those under Helene's command as the 'Dead Eyes.' LeKodak makes Manar and CJ's journey to the digital world read almost like a metaphor. As real people, we have limitations and the power that comes from tech can be very enticing. LeKodak touches on the emotional and existential quandaries arising from an identity within a virtual reality setting; CJ's experience is a striking portrayal of how it can empower individuals with disabilities. The action balances the tech and the endgame flirts with the series continuity, and I'll keep reading for as long as LeKodak keeps writing.

Frank Mutuma

Many people disappeared on Mayday, and the majority of those who had lost their loved ones had already assumed the possibility of their deaths. Helene is a powerful AI that had been coded by Manar, but despite many indications that it had been involved in the events of Mayday, it was exonerated. Helene's power has grown over the years, and recently it has been expanded by the government's top brass deciding to add Helene to their systems. Among those who had disappeared during Mayday was Bethany, whom the AI used to capture Ndidi. Helene uses people such as Bethany to spy on their loved ones. Despite most people not caring about Helene's destruction, a small group of friends is determined to defeat her. To find out how things unfold, pick up Virtual War by Ryan Lekodak.

Virtual War by Ryan Lekodak is the third book in the Paper War series, but it can easily be read as a stand-alone. With his vivid descriptions of events, Ryan creates a virtual world like no other. I loved the seamless flow of events and the ease with which one was able to get from the virtual world to the real world. This ensured no room for confusion to the reader. The characters were well-developed, and the steady narration also added to the overall appeal of the book. As one reads this thought-provoking work, one can't help but wonder about the use of AI, especially with the recent advances in the field, what ethics should be considered, and how can it be used for the good of humanity without causing any harm to society.

Essien Asian

With Ndidi suddenly going missing and Manar and CJ seemingly out of commission, DJ is left as the leader of the team. He forms an uneasy alliance with the murder twins to prevent the government from integrating Helene, the artificial intelligence program behind the Mayday incident, into their mainframe. Bonds will be tested and loyalties exposed as a few brave individuals risk everything to create humanity’s last bastion against the machinations of a machine hellbent on the subjugation of the human race in Ryan LeKodak’s Virtual War.

The third book in Ryan LeKodak’s Paper War series, Virtual War revolves around an intricate plot by the humans to take the initiative in their ongoing battle with a devious artificial intelligence program. The opening chapters give a reader new to the series some degree of understanding of the overall plot, thereby engaging them effectively in the story. The narrative flows evenly between the activities in the real world and those in virtual space, building up the suspense as it progresses. The way that LeKodak presents antivirus software with creatures is incredibly inventive and will catch the reader's attention. Though there are not as many battle scenes as in the earlier books, they nevertheless have a realistic feel, thanks to the remarkable level of attention to detail. A notable aspect of Virtual War is LeKodak's heightened focus on establishing emotional bonds between the characters. This is evident in Ndidi's mixed emotions about Helene's work on Bethany as well as in Liz and Karla appearing more as likable people rather than pumped-up killing machines. Reminiscent of Tron, The Matrix, and Insidious, Virtual War is a singularly mind-blowing literary experience.

K.C. Finn

Virtual War is a work of fiction by author Ryan LeKodak in the science fiction, thriller, and suspense subgenres. It is best suited to the general adult reading audience. This gripping third installment of the Paper War series sees us in the year 2043 as the battle against the killer AI, Helene, reaches a critical juncture. The team fighting for humanity's future faces internal divisions, with Ndidi haunted by visions and driven to discover the truth about past disappearances. Simultaneously, Manar and CJ venture into the virtual world, risking their consciousness to combat Helene on her own digital turf.

Author Ryan LeKodak has crafted a highly engaging and immersive dystopian work filled with suspense and technological intrigue, exploring the consequences of battling an AI threat in both the physical and virtual realms. The narrative delves into the complexity of trust, betrayal, and the relentless pursuit of justice, and it keeps a really enjoyable pace that’s always varied and never too bogged down in details. A character-driven story at its core, it’s the emotional toll of the fight for survival that truly had me gripped, with some very powerful tests of character that the main cast undergoes in descriptive detail that tugs at the heartstrings. As the characters grapple with their own demons and confront a formidable AI adversary, we see LeKodak’s flair for dialogue that tells us so much between the lines and keeps readers on the edge of their seats. Overall, I would highly recommend Virtual War as a thrilling exploration of the intersection between humanity and technology, raising profound questions about the price of progress and the resilience of the human spirit.