The Burning Man Festival, held each summer on a remote salt flat in Nevada, brings together artists, radicals, technophiles, and madmen for a weeklong extravaganza of creative anarchy where half-ton robots rub elbows with wizards shooting firebolts. Each year, Burning Man ends with the ceremonial burning of The Man, a 40-foot-tall statue. Except this year. Someone torched The Man four days early.
For forensic software debugger Thom Takahashi, volunteering to help track down the arsonist was just part of Burning Man’s spirt of collaboration. Others were good at building things; they could remake The Man in time for the final night’s rituals. Thom was good at finding things, so why not pitch in? When a “conceptual artist” in red and black facepaint claiming to be the culprit turns herself in, Thom can’t shake the feeling that the clues point away from her, not towards her.
And then, when an affable roboticist is found hanging in his tent, an apparent suicide, Thom begins to realize he may be on the trail of something much bigger—and deadlier—than a mere arson. It could be mysterious government agents with a vendetta against Burning Man, or a group of medieval reenactors gone mad, or maybe hidden amongst the body modifications and costumes, there really are space aliens wandering around the playa.
Whoever’s behind it, Thom has only a few days to search the kinematic sculptures and homebrew robots to determine which of them is really an instrument of mass violence in disguise. As the desert sun beats down ferociously and a cocktail of unknown hallucinogens works its way through his system, he must race against time to distinguish reality from artifice and friend from freak. Because if he doesn’t, the next one to be burned might just be him.
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