In Dan Ronco’s futuristic techno-thriller Unholy Domain, high technology squares off against religion in a battle for the human race. In 2022, ten years after a crippling computer virus called “PeaceMaker” caused massive devastation, technology has been outlawed. On the black market, however, technology is in demand, and artificial intelligence has allowed the development of human-looking robots.
Those who trade in illegal technology, the “Domain”, include those who develop artificial intelligence, and those who distribute it on the black market. The Church of Natural Humans believes technology is evil, and that all who support artificial intelligence deserve death. As a way of furthering its agenda, the church supports a clandestine terrorist group called “The Army of God.” They are led by the First Minister, who treats women with contempt and enemies with brutality. The religion and technology factions are locked in deadly conflict, with humankind stuck in the middle.
David Brown is the son of Ray Brown, the man who was blamed for setting off the PeaceMaker virus, and he has grown up hating his father. When he receives a years-delayed e-mail from Ray, proclaiming his innocence, David begins a search for the truth. An interesting wrinkle is David’s ability to communicate with artificial intelligence, which helps fuel his search. Unfortunately, there are many who will kill to keep David from learning the truth.
Unholy Domain moves along at a lightning pace, and engages the reader with action and thrills aplenty. The premise of religion versus technology is thought-provoking, as are the quotes with which Ronco begins each chapter. The concept of holy war and the moral and ethical questions the book evokes remind the reader of issues in society today.
The negatives in my mind were that the book reads almost like a movie script. That is both good and bad. The good, of course, is that the pacing keeps you turning the pages. The bad is that story lines and characters lack depth. I would have enjoyed more character development, and a deeper exploration of the theological basis of the Church of Natural Humans, for example.
Overall, Unholy Domain is a solid addition to the thriller genre. It can be read and enjoyed as a stand-alone novel, but readers might want to first read PeaceMaker, the first book in the series.