Mind Fuck
Manna Francis
Paperback
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There are no bad guys or good guys. There are only better guys and worse guys.
One of the worse guys is Val Toreth. In a world in which torture is a legitimate part of the investigative process, he works for the Investigation and Interrogation Division, where his colleagues can be more dangerous than the criminals he investigates.
One of the better guys is Keir Warrick. His small corporation, SimTech, is developing a “sim” system that places users in a fully immersive virtual reality.

A minnow in a murky and dangerous pond, he is only beginning to discover how many compromises may be required for success.
Their home is the dark future dystopia of New London. A totalitarian bureaucracy controls the European Administration, sharing political power with the corporations.
The government uses violence and the many divisions of the feared Department of Internal Security to maintain control and crush resistance. The corporations fight among themselves, using lethal force under the euphemism of “corporate sabotage,” uniting only to resist attempts by the Administration to extend its influence over them.
Toreth and Warrick are more natural enemies than allies. But mutual attraction and the fight for survival can create unlikely bonds.

Top:
What an appropriate title.

I’d never really appreciated BDSM stories before, in fanfiction, yaoi, or original novels. Too often, the author uses the kink as a quick and dirty means of injecting angst and drama into an otherwise drab story; some authors can actually manage to turn the kink to advantage, most authors can’t. Also, it’s not something I personally enjoy. A story written merely to explore the kink bores me quickly. I’m also not particularly fond of sci-fi dystopias; it’s depressing, and I don’t want to read about it. I wasn’t expecting much when I ripped open the shipping envelope to find out what LdD had sent me this time.

Manna Francis’ MindFuck blew my expectations out of the water.

The story never gets too technical and Francis is especially good at explaining what little tech there is, so the scifi-nonlovers will still be able to read this story – I can easily imagine it taking place 20 or 30 years into the future instead of, say, 200 or 300 years. Francis preserved a sense of familiarity through the small details of the characters’ personal lives, while using the larger aspects of the setting, such as the corporations, the government, and the I&I, to foster the sense of strangeness. The balance of known and unknown was quite masterful, actually.

The mystery was another thing that showcased Francis’ deft touch. There weren’t any sudden shifts between the sleuthing and the characters’ personal lives. She kept up a relaxed, intriguing flow so that I was able to follow easily, with an attitude of “Oh, wow, what happens next?” instead of “How far ahead will I have to skip through the boring plot-stuff in order to get back to the part I actually want to read?”

But, by far, the most fascinating aspect of this story was found in the characters.

Warrick is a gentleman. Toreth is a sociopath. Warrick has a dream of beauty and idealism that is just within his grasp. Toreth enjoys his job of finding criminals and torturing them. Warrick treats everyone with courtesy. Toreth gets a kick out of fucking with people. Warrick is moral. Toreth has no appreciable conscience.

The balance of power between these two men is at once fascinating, addictive, beautiful, and appalling. Warrick is a control-freak, with a firm grip on his world and his place in it, yet Toreth only needs to use a certain tone of voice and Warrick is writhing in his chains, begging for more. Toreth is an expert at playing people, controlling their reactions and divining their motivations, and yet Warrick terrifies him on a level he can’t consciously understand. There is no clear line in their interactions, no real demarcation between Dominant and Submissive, other than in “the game.” Through the entire story, one must ask oneself, “Who’s mastering who?” The answer is, as far as I can discern, “Neither one.” And that seems a far more realistic portrayal of the dynamic than I’ve read in far too many other (wretched) stories.

My sympathies and interest are usually reserved for the bottom in any story, and I do adore Warrick. I ache for him, considering what Toreth puts him through, and I admire him for his inner strength and grace. He’s in my Top Five Favorite Bottoms list because he’s a perfect model for everything I find most alluring in a bottom.

But I have to admit… this time, it was Toreth who did it for me. He’s emotionally stunted, ruthless, selfish, arrogant, cruel, and emotionally weak. There is absolutely no escaping what a horrible person he really is. And yet…

And yet he cares for his administrative assistant, and not just because she threatens to leave his office in a shambles should she ever transfer away from him. He’s usually fair to his subordinates. He believes that his job is necessary and for the good of his community, even if he’s despised by the very people he’s supposed to be helping. He’s a natural leader because he leads by example instead of rhetoric. He is, ultimately, a very cheerful sociopath. And he hums off-key when he’s happy.
He’s a sociopath, but dammit, for the length of the series, he was MY beloved sociopath, and that made him special!

Would I have changed anything? Well… no. I know that’s not particularly helpful for the prospective reader, or informative to the author, but it’s also true. I can’t think of a single thing that left me unhappy. The editing was superb, the characters were engrossing, the story was absolutely satisfying while still lingering painfully in my subconscious. Exactly what I like most about reading. There are a lot of eBook authors who have had their works printed which I thought were an outrageous waste of time and money. MindFuck is so much not one of them, it seems a sacrilege to compare it to those wastes-of-a-good-tree novels. Reading the story online is fine and dandy, but there is a certain beauty, a satisfaction of the spirit, to holding the edited print version in my hot and greedy little hands. This is one of those books whose value far outstrips its cost.

I highly doubt that I and LdDurham are unique in being addicted to the Administration Series, so I fully expect that anyone who reads MindFuck will immediately hunt down the rest of the series. There’s a reason why it was sold out of its first printing, and I predict that the second and probably third printing will be likewise gobbled down. Manna Francis deserves to have her name shouted from the rooftops.

Bottom:
This is, by far, the most enjoyable, addictive, and amazing story that I have ever come across in all my readings. And Manna Francis is one of the greatest storytellers.

I first stumbled onto this story years ago while searching for original gay fiction. There was a small online archive, so I started in the A’s. I was so lucky I did because the Administration Series was what I found. I became obsessed with all of the stories in the series and with the characters and with the world. I spent hours, late into the night, just trying to fit in just a few more paragraphs before I needed sleep. Four hours, three hours, two hours before the alarm was set to go off.

Imagine my elation when I heard that the first story would be published. Through the roof, my friends, through the roof. I was incredibly excited to be able to reread one of my favorite stories.

Mind Fuck has an incredibly intelligent plot. It plays out like a sci-fi mystery blockbuster with sex added in. Manna’s voice is so clear, so focused in telling the tale, that I could see the story unfold before my eyes. The mystery in it is good. It is multi-layered and clever. Toreth puts things together slowly, with small breaks in the case and with tiny pieces of dumb luck.

The technology used in this book, the setting, and the people, are all portrayed realistically and believably. Not once was I ever left questioning anything. From IIP forms that were annoying and needed to be filed and yet never looked at by superiors, to a world with CEOs needing to know self-defense from threat of corporate kidnappings. Manna knew her world and she made me know it too.

What makes this book so addictive are the characters. The main characters, Warrick and Toreth, are absolutely enthralling. They are characters that cement the story and make it perfect. And the sex scenes between them are not only hot, but important to the story as well. There is nothing gratuitous in or about the sex scenes. They are there to fully flesh out the characters and the way they relate to each other on one level, while their discussions and arguments show how they relate on another. The reader should know that the sex is very D/s, with tiny shadows of S&M. I’m not into S&M, but in this, the light touches of it only heighten the D/s and make it hot, make it real. Which is exactly what Warrick is looking for.

I recommend this book for any reader who enjoys a gripping story, a story that is intelligently written, and with characters that make you believe they are alive somewhere. This is not a book you can read in one sunny afternoon. Expect many days of trying to squeeze in as many sentences between phone calls, work, dishes, and appointments. And expect that Toreth and Warrick won’t disappear once the book ends.

Big cheers to Casperian Books for having the foresight to pick this book and its series up. They seemed to have treated both the author and her material with respect and their work is quality. I will definitely be paying more attention to them as a publisher and getting more of their books. Excellent work.