Foreshadows: The Ghosts of Zero

July 1, 2012

Book Review By: Mr. Roboto

Year: 2012

Author: The Very Us Artists

Category: Cyberpunk Books, Cyberpunk Music


Foreshadows: The Ghosts of Zero

Story/Track Listing:
  • Forward by C.S. Friedman (No audio track)
  • The Ghosts of Zero by “The Digital Alchemist” (No audio track)
  • 1. Geist Anthropic 1:4
  • 2. Too Much Is Never Enough
  • 3. Cenotaph, or We’ve Been Reduced To Lo-Fi
  • 4. Graveduggery
  • 5. Love Simulacra
  • 6. Cold As The Gun
  • 7. …And Weave The Spider’s Web
  • 8. Geist Threnodic 2:4
  • 9. Best Served Flash-Frozen
  • 10. Geist Eidetic 3:4
  • 11. All The Good Things You Are
  • 12. Twenty-One-Oh
  • 13. Made In Brazil | Living In Japan
  • 14. Crossed Swords
  • 15. Geist Intrinsic 4:4
  • 16. Anodyne Fading: The Wolf Without
  • 17. Lament
  • 18. Deep In The Deep: Reaction-Diffusion Dies Tonight
  • 19. Unto The Interface

  • Overview: Cyberpunk continues to inspire writers and readers some 35 years after William Gibson wrote his first short story. Now a new group of writers, artists, and musicians have come together as the Very Us Artists to create the latest cyber-anthology complete with its own soundtrack. It’s not so much a book and CD, but a multimedia package. But does it work as a whole, or should certain parts be omitted?


    The (Back) Story: The prologue (The Ghosts of Zero) gives us the basic back story of the rest of the book:

    Corporations became bigger than “too big to fail;” they became governments and nations unto themselves and the established powers were unable to stop them, especially when the corporations began absorbing military forces or creating their own as “security.” That’s when the Multinationals Wars(TM) started as the corporations screwed the law over and courts became battlefields. World economies virtually died out as currency was replaced by World Bank Currency, a.k.a. WBC, the W, or simply “dub.”

    Technology advanced as the corps wanted the best weapons for “hostile takeovers.” Robots and nanotechnology soon appeared, but without Skynet or SHODAN (which was good news or bad news depending on how you wanted to see it). The Internet slowly died out as privacy and freedom was overrun by surveillance and censorship, but was replaced by Worldnet, though nobody knows how it came to be.


    The (Front) Stories: At first, this anthology may seem like 19 separate stories set against the backdrop of the above scenario. But once you start reading the eighth story, you suddenly realize that there are more common threads running through the book than just the back story. In particular, the four “Geist” stories about a former pyra-play addict who risks everything to hunt down a creature called the “Geist” (as in zeitgeist, the spirit of the times). The Geist attacks systems like a mosquito feeding on blood, but in doing so causes major disruptions. The other stories gives background on the technologies, people, events, and the Geist itself.

    Not all the stories as connected. Some are simply stand-alone, side stories. Even so, they further enhance the dystopic scene of the (post)Multinational Wars(TM) as couriers, Stomp Brawl (a future MMA) fighters, librarians, and even children fight for personal and human survival in dark and dangerous times. My personal favorite is the librarians who are trying to save the data from an ice-based computer that’s shutdown and melting.


    The Soundtrack: Have you ever tried reading a book while music was playing in the background? Sometimes it helps to read with music from a radio, CD, iPod, or pirated MP3s playing as a “soundtrack” for your book. If only all books had its own soundtrack…

    Foreshadows does.

    A CD with the book (or MP3s with the ebook) has 19 tracks that correspond with all the stories (except the prologue) ranging from ambient synth-instrumentals to outright rock songs. I listened to the disk after reading the book and the tunes brought back some memories of the stories. It would have been better if I was listening while reading to get the full effect. But with or without the book, they still make good ear-candy.

    An example of the music from the Foreshadows CD: Bilian’s “Love Simulacra”


    Conclusion: The Very Us Artists have made their case for the next generation of cyberpunk, and it’s a pretty bold statement. A broad collaboration that shows what multimedia should have been in the 90s. Even now there’s word of more than could be published in a book. Webshadows continues where the book leaves off.

    Some might balk at the $36 US price tag for the book/disk combo, but given the amount of work that went into this project, the whole being more than just the parts, and current prices of books and CDs, the price is well worth it.


    Update: Just got word from John LaSala, one of the masterminds behind the Foreshadows project, that he is willing to cut 10% of the price for the physical package. Just go to their website, purchase, and when asked for a coupon tell them ROBOTO10 sent you.

    Street: Clairvoyance

    November 22, 2010

    Book Review By: Mr. Roboto

    Author: Ryan A. Span

    Year: 2010

    Category: Cyberpunk Books

    Website: Street of Eyes

    Clairvoyance cover

    First of, an apology. I had received Ryan’s second Street of Eyes novel back in May. That time period was rather confused with a lay-off, some temporary work, unemployment, then being called back to work, and a reading and review got lost in the shuffle. There’s only one way to describe how I feel for letting this go for so long…


    Fortunately, I did manage to cram the entire book into my eyeballs this weekend. I can say that the second Street novel ain’t no huurrr-duuurrr hurpa-derp. What it is is a worthy successor to Empathy that picks up where it left off: With Gina recovering on a Ukraine fishing trawler after her fall from an airship in a lifeboat. She gets to know the ship’s captain, his wife, and the fishing village where the couple live. But her telepathic powers are still in effect, and they have her hopping into the heads/bodies of Rat and Bomber. Soon, Gina wants to leave the simple fishing life and try to find Bomber, fearing Gabriel may have killed him.

    Meanwhile, Bomber (now going by Simon Caine) is recovering from jumping out of that same airship. He begins looking for Gina and Gabriel, but needs help from hackers Jock and Rat. Rat is given a unique opportunity: She is invited to be a ranked hacker by working for the lead hacker himself, the King of Laputa. Only she meets another woman who used to be the leader until outed by the current king and is now planning a revolt against what she sees as a “boy’s club” (the Fifteen leaders of the hacker nations).


    Past Prologue. For Clairvoyance, we get to learn more about some of the character back-stories. Gina used to be Emily Vaughn, the daughter of a well-to-do family who resented her father’s social climbing by “being a lap dog for the Federation.” Bomber was a US Marine who underwent ID changes as needed. And Gabriel was a survivor of a nuclear attack because of a secret nanotech program. This gives our characters the background that explains their current actions, and a little foreshadowing as those pasts return to haunt them in various ways.


    Don’t derp out on volume two. Already, Ryan is working on the third and final Street volume (aka Precognition) on his site. If Clairvoyance is any indication, Precognition should be the magnum opus for the Street series. In the meantime, better get Clairvoyance (and Empathy if you don’t have it yet) to prepare for the grand finale.

    This post has been filed under Cyberpunk Books by Mr. Roboto.

    The Surrogates

    September 23, 2009

    Review By: Mr. Roboto

    Authors: Robert Venditti & Brett Weldele (illustrator)

    Year: 2006, 2009

    Category: Cyberpunk Books; Graphic Novels

    NOTE: This review will cover both graphic novels The Surrogates and The Surrogates: Flesh and Bone.

    Surrogates cover 1


    Coming to a big screen near you. With the Surrogates movies opening this Friday (Sept. 25), I’d thought we should check out the book that it is based on. Originally a five issue comic, The Surrogates shows life in 2054 Georgia (US) as a police detective searches for a person who is destroying “surrogates,” robotic avatars that people use to interact with the real world from the safety of their homes. There is also a prequel, The Surrogates: Flesh and Bone. The two books are combined into the The Surrogates: Owner’s Manual.


    Synopsis: Lieutenant Harvey Greer investigates the destruction of two surrogates that is first attributed to a “flash storm.” A data-recording unit on one of them shows that they were actually destroyed by an electrical discharge from someone or something that would be called the “steeplejack.” Greer suspects that the steeplejack may be working for a religious cult called The Church of The Prophet, aka the “Dreads,” who are known to have a history against surrogates.

    As Greer delves deeper into the mystery, his own surrogate is destroyed by the steeplejack, who plans to disable or destroy all the surrogates. Instead of replacing it, he decides to continue without it, and does find who is behind the steeplejack and the anti-surrogate plot.

    In the prequel, Flesh and Bone, a homeless black boy is beaten and killed by rich white kids using their parent’s surrogates. This causes the Dreads’ anti-surrogate movement to swell, leading to a riot when the most reliable witness to the beatings is killed before them. After some negotiations, the Dreads are allowed to leave the city and setup a “nation” where they can govern themselves. In this book, Greer is a patrolman waiting to hear back about his detective test.


    Back Stories. In between the chapters of ink-on-single color pages come some ephemera that sets a bit of background: A research paper on the benefits of surrogates, a questionnaire, news clippings, and even “pamphlets” from Virtual Self, Inc. (Life… Only Better) and The Church of The Prophet (The Dreads). These add to the story by filling in some back details about how and why the surrogates became so popular and despised. In particular, a news transcript about Zaire Powell III proves quite revealing on how he murdered his baby sister and then set fire to his home killing everyone else. After his release he founded the Dreads movement.


    But is it cyberpunk? If you need to ask, you must not be paying attention. I can say with confidence that *YES*, The Surrogates series IS cyberpunk. If the beating at the beginning of Flesh and Bone didn’t beat that point home, consider this: Greer’s wife commits suicide when her surrogate is disabled.

    But, there are still some questions left; Will the movie follow the novel(s)? Probably not exactly, but Blade Runner didn’t follow Phillip K. Dick’s novel exactly either. Will the movie be any good? I’ll let you know this weekend…

    This post has been filed under Cyberpunk Books, Graphic Novels by Mr. Roboto.

    Little Brother

    November 24, 2008

    Review By: Mr. Roboto

    Author: Cory Doctorow

    Year: 2008

    Category: Cyberpunk Books

    Available for download or read it online.

    Little Brother

    Among the latest in CP. In my last book review (The Shockwave Rider), I covered what is undoubtedly THEE prototype cyberpunk work. Now I give you a recent work from one of Boing Boing’s co-editors, Cory Doctorow, as he tells the story of a tech-savvy teen’s battle with Big Brother in a post 9/11 America. Though targeted to a younger audience, old farts out there should give it read as well.


    Synopsis. The story is told through the eyes of Marcus Yallow, aka “w1n5t0n,” a San Francisco gamer who ditches school with his friends to participate in an alternate reality game. Things go bad as a terrorist attack mobilizes the DHS, who kidnap Marcus and company and threaten to “make them disappear” if they tell anyone about their captivity and torture. When an injured friend isn’t released, Marcus wages a personal war against the DHS, who have turned the Bay Area into a police state, by using the various technologies available such as Linux for the Xbox and trusted networking.


    A Call To Action. A brief essay from Doctorow about his book shows that Little Brother isn’t just a novel written for entertainment; There’s a definite purpose for the book’s existence:

    How do kids figure out which search-engine results to trust? What happens to their Facebook disclosures? How can they tell whether a camera, ID check, or rule is making them safer or less safe? In the absence of the right critical literacy tools, they’ll never know how to read a Wikipedia article so that they can tell if it’s credible. They’ll never know how to keep from ruining their adulthood with the videos they post as a teenager, and they’ll never know when the government is making them safer or less safe.

    The difference between freedom and totalitarianism comes down to this: do our machines serve us, or control us? We live in the technological age that puts all other technological ages to shame. We are literally covered in technology, it rides in our pockets, pressed to our skin, in our ears, sometimes even implanted in our bodies. If these devices treat us as masters, then there is no limit to what we can achieve. But if they treat us as suspects, then we are doomed, for the jailers have us in a grip that is tighter than any authoritarian fantasy of the Inquisition.

    The book was intended to get the youngsters to thinking about their security and privacy in a tech-saturated world of paranoia, and to have them and their parental/guardian/mentor units discuss the point of how to better secure liberty and freedom on this prison planet.

    Little Brother-UK Cover

    For those in the UK, Cory Doctorow will be @ Forbidden Planet London on November 29, 2008 to sign copies of the UK version of the book. Click the pic above for details.


    Conclusion. If you or someone you know is old enough to use technology, or needs to know about the consequences of its usage, this book is a necessary read. With the holidays coming up, this book would be an excellent gift for the hacker, gamer, or net surfer in your tribe. It just might open your eyes to the eyes of Big Brother.

    This post has been filed under Cyberpunk Books by Mr. Roboto.

    Street: Empathy

    March 27, 2008

    Book Review By: Mr. Roboto

    Author: Ryan A. Span

    Year: 2008

    Category: Cyberpunk Books

    Website: Street of Eyes

    Street:  Empathy


    Reports of cyberpunk’s death in literature are premature. Even now, there are writers who have been inspired to write their vision of a techno-dystopic near future, like Mr. Ryan Span (aka “Winter”). His Street Of Eyes website has the serialized version of this soon-to-be released book, and a second book in progress waiting to appear on the site.

    Much of what you would expect in cyberpunk literature is here: Hackers, cybernetic soldiers, polluted planet, grim future… along with a couple of (relatively) new elements like telepathy and nanotechnology thrown into the mix. To say Empathy doesn’t bring much new to the table may not be far from the truth, but that doesn’t seem to be the point of the novel. Many have been inspired by the works of Gibson, Sterling, and company, but don’t have the talent… or balls… to put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard these days) and write such works. Ryan Span seems to have the balls to do so, and the talent to make a pretty good story out of it.


    The cast of characters. Here now is a brief review of the upcoming dead-tree edition, only with a focus on the main characters to limit spoiling the storyline:

  • Gina: She works the Street of Eyes as a “telepath-for-hire.” To activate her power, though, she uses a drug called “Spice.” The Spice gives Gina the ability to get into people’s heads, but she needs to be careful about the head she connects to; Users of Spice have been known to go insane when they connect to psychos.
  • Bomber: He finds Gina on the Street and brings her to his boss. Before long, we find out that he is more than just some gopher for a wealthy client.
  • Gabriel: The head that Bomber’s boss wants Gina to look into. What she finds there isn’t pretty… but later she falls in love with him.
  • The Emperor: A Triad (Chinese mafia) lord that Bomber has worked with.
  • Jock and Rat: Hackers that work for the Emperor. Jock mostly coordinates operations remotely while Rat does the street work. Rat isn’t what he appears to be…
  • Street of Eyes banner

    Not quite Neuromancer, but definitely worth reading. While cyberpunk fans wait for the next Neuromancer or Blade Runner to get excited about, Street may be something to pique their interest.

    And who knows… in twenty years, somebody may write a cyberpunk novel or film a movie based on Street.

    This post has been filed under Cyberpunk Books by Mr. Roboto.

    Akira Club

    January 15, 2008

    Art Book Review By: Ak!mbo

    Author: Otomo Katsuhiro

    Year: 2007

    Degree of Cyberpunk Visuals: Very high.

    Correlation to Cyberpunk Themes: Very high.

    Category: Cyberpunk Art Books

    Akira Club screen capture


    Overview: Akira Club is an art book featuring cover art, sketches and outtakes from the paperback Akira collections. It’s a little pricey at thirty bucks when most the artwork is in black and white, and another set back is the format, which doesn’t match the Akira books. Though mostly presented in black and white, Otomo Katsuhiro’s artwork will blow your socks off. The artwork in Akira Club is incredibly detailed and the author’s commentaries and sketches really show you how much work has been put into the product. While penned many years ago, it doesn’t look a bit outdated. Akira is an epic piece of work at over 2000 pages and has won awards and prestige around the world. The animated movie based on the manga re-introduced the west to Japanese animation in the nineties. The quality of animation mirrors that of the manga and although large parts of the manga were cut from the movie, it still gets the story through to the viewer pretty well.


    Akira Club screen capture


    Background: The world of Akira is set after world war three and the destruction and rebuilding of Tokyo. Themes include transhumanism, corruption, low life and high tech and Akira comes across as incredibly cyberpunk, mostly focusing on the life of those on the ground in a super industrialized and militaristic Neo Tokyo. The artwork in Akira Club pretty much represents these themes in great detail. There’s a contrast between the giant, symmetrical skyscrapers which dominate the Neo Tokyo skyline and the life on the ground where there are a lot of organic and seemingly random shapes. There’s also a recurring theme of order put in chaos, like the front cover image; smooth motorcycle parts are jumbled together in a giant mess creating disarray where there once was a finely tuned machine, everything put together neatly.


    Akira Club screen capture


    A lot of the magazine covers show a destroyed Neo Tokyo behind mostly young people. The city being destroyed by a secret weapon created by the government, this gives a pretty strong image of the world being handed over to future generations ruined by our predecessors’ lust for more power through technological advances.


    Akira Club screen capture


    The Sections: The book is divided into four sections:

    • Section One: The first section collects several full colour paintings of magazine and book covers, T shirt designs and promotional posters, supplemented with preliminary sketches and short comments from the author; Otomo Katsuhiro.
    • Section Two: The second section is the biggest and focuses on the covers used for each chapter when Akira was serialized in Young Magazine. These weren’t included in the paperback collections because they’d break up the natural flow of the story, so having them collected here is kinda nice as the artwork is generally stunning. These do not include comments on the artwork but little musings on life by the author, which I personally found incredibly uninteresting.
    • Section Three: The third section collects all sorts of odd artwork used in advertising and merchandise, there’s a lot of great art, but all in all it’s not as interesting as the last section of the book. Also included here are notes on the translation of Akira.
    • Section Four: The fourth section is probably the coolest out of the whole book, although I wish it were longer. Titled, “Unpublished Works,” it shows panels and scenes that were never included in the finalized Akira comic books, some pages include parts that were included in the serialized version of the comic, but were cut from the paperback collections.


    Akira Club screen capture


    The Bottom Line: Having “read” through the book, I feel a little let down; it’s like there’s something missing. The artwork, though awe-inspiring, is as noted mostly in black and white, and I feel there could have been more colour illustrations put in to compensate for the large number of cover illustrations from Young Magazine. The last part of the book could also have been a little longer. At two thousand pages, I’m sure there is more unpublished material than on display here. I’d like to see the parts excluded from the paperback collections in better detail, preferably in entirety, as I’m sure others are as well. I’ve only had access to the translated collections and would like to know what I’ve been missing out on.


    Akira Club screen capture


    Should You Buy It? All in all, Akira Club is really for those with specialized interests, such as rabid Akira fans, anime historians and artists looking for inspiration in cyberpunk drawings of landscapes and dystopic scenarios. And even for these select few, the book isn’t perfect. However, I think of it as a nice addition to my bookshelf and I browse through it regularly, still “Ooh’ing” and “Aah’ing” at the incredible art. I wouldn’t say this is a must for cyberpunk or indeed Akira fans, but if you think you can afford it, it’s a good purchase and a great gift for those already familiar with the universe and story, be that through the manga or the anime version of Akira.


    This post has been filed under Cyberpunk Books, Graphic Novels by Mr. Roboto.

    Voice of the Whirlwind

    March 25, 2007

    Book Review By: David Gentle

    Author: Walter Jon Williams

    Year: 1987

    Category: Cyberpunk Books

    Voice of the Whirlwind Book screen capture


    After writing Hardwired Walter Jon Williams wrote this novel, set 100 years on. Perhaps it’s a comment on the possibility of a plateau in technological development but nothing much new has come along. Many more people live in space and a larger number of planets have been colonized. Interstellar travel has also been developed but it is only used by a small number of people. A certain amount of genetic engineering has taken place, though not with any great success. In Hardwired there were a couple of characters whose minds had been recorded and transfered into new bodies when their old ones died. This is still going on 100 years later and Ettienne Steward bought clone insurance just before leaving to fight in a war. He’d been a gang member in the urban hell of Marseilles and was looking for some rigidity in his life so he signed up with Coherent Light as an “Icehawk”, a sort of SAS style special ops unit. Obviously when the clone insurance kicks in after you die they make you a new body and, by some appalling means, overwrite whatever nascent consciousness is in it with your last recorded scan but Steward never updated. When he dies and his Beta is born his memories are 15 years old. It’s at this point, the birth of the “Beta”, that the novel starts.

    Steward finds that his Alpha has been murdered and that the war on Sheol had been a Vietnam style disaster that ended with the arrival of the planet’s original inhabitants, the aliens referred to as “the Powers”. Then in quick succession his therapist, Dr. Ashraff, is murdered and he receives a mysterious video message from his Alpha, giving Steward tantalising details of his fatal last mission. This is the murder mystery that, in part, sustains the novel.

    Then Steward meets Griffith, a friend of the alpha from the Icehawk days, who offers him a convenient way to get into space and find some answers to his questions.

    “The Competent Man” is one of the major bugbears of the 1980’s Cyberpunk authors. Seeing themselves as literary and avant garde they rebelled against the military and paramilitary figures who dominated precyberpunk novels in the 1960’s and 70s’ who would save the world while the thankful common man (and/or lady) looked on helplessly in awe. The underlying idea (never actually lying that far underneath of anything) was one of obeyence to a sort of unquestioning and invulnerable facist military elite.

    The typical Cyberpunk response to this was a character like Deckard in Bladerunner, an apparently faded cop, brought back for one more case straight out of film noir. A complex guy (or android perhaps) in a morally complex world. Case and Molly Millions, not out to save the world but to survive and maybe make some cash along the way. Turner in Count Zero was William Gibson’s attempt to write a “competent man” and push him to pieces. Morally complex people living in difficult, complex worlds where it was hard enough to know where the next meal would be coming from let alone what “right” and “wrong” might mean.

    Steward is the “Competent Man as lunatic obsessive”. His belief in the purity of his own actions has made him totally corrupt. He has been indoctrinated into believing that anything is justified in the cause of achieving his objectives, that his “mission” is more important than lives or property or friendship. His attitude is that of the terrorist, indeed he is actually used in the book as a paramilitary terrorist to further one policorp’s goals but, perhaps because it is written from his point of view, the book treats him as a hero. This brings me to an impossible question:

    …are we supposed to admire Steward?

    Voice of the Whirlwind Book screen capture


    When I read the book as a 17 year old I did. I guess this is the appeal of extremist causes to the young, the admiration for living without compromise. I only realized recently, while rereading the novel, what an asshole Steward is. There are small cracks in the narrative through which we get a glimpse from the other side. Dr. Ashraff, Steward’s therapist immediately after he is born has this to say about him:

    “You fell for their program.” Steward felt surprise at the apparent feeling in Dr. Ashraf’s voice. It was hard to remember Ashraf ever being emotional about anything.

    “Coherent Light taught you martial arts and zen,” Ashraf said. “Zen of a certain kind.”

    “Mind like water,” Steward quoted. “The unmeaning of action. Union of arrow and target. The perfection of action, detached from anything except the spirit.”

    “They were programming you,” Ashraf said, “with things that were useful to them. They taught you to divorce action from consequence, from context. They were turning you into a moral imbecile. A robot programmed for corporate espionage and sabotage. Theft, bomb throwing, blackmail.”

    Steward was surprised by the harshness in Ashraf’s voice. He turned from the window and looked at him. The doctor’s fingers were steepled in front of his mouth, but Steward saw the anger in his eyes. “Let’s not forget murder,” Steward said.

    “No,” Ashraf said. “Let’s not.”

    “I’ve never pretended to be anything but what I was,” Steward said. “I’ve always been honest about what I’ve been.”

    “What’s honesty got to do with my point?” Steward felt himself tense at the attack on Coherent Light, at the things that still provoked his loyalty. He forced himself to relax.; Coherent Light was dead, dead in the long past. Mind like water, he told himself.

    “You’ve been programmed to divorce corporate morality from personal morality,” Ashraf said. “You’re a zombie.”

    Steward frowned at him. “Perhaps,” he said, “morality is simply latent within me. You’re awfully combative for an analyst, you know.”

    “I’m not here to analyze you. I’m here to give you a crash course in reality and then kick you out into the world,” Ashraf carefully flattened his hands on his desk. He looked up at Steward.

    Mind like water, Steward told himself. Trying to stay calm.

    It didn’t work.

    There’s also the relationship with the Alpha’s ex-wife Natalie, who see’s through him. Whether it’s Alpha, Beta or even Gamma she knows what Steward is.

    Voice of the Whirlwind Book screen capture


    The reason that I focus on morality at all is that it’s one of the key issues in Cyberpunk. Science fiction is always much more a reflection of the time in which it’s written than the future. The 1980’s were a time of moral disinterest and one of the key concepts of Cyberpunk is the idea that if a thing can be done it will be done whether it’s humane or not. It’s one of the things that dates stereotypical Cyberpunk fiction because people in general are much more aware of, and resistant to, the potential horrors of new technology now. Not many people believe that the future is inevitable anymore. Voice of the Whirlwind is set in a morally ambiguous universe but the above passage humanises it.

    Like Hardwired before it Voice of the Whirlwind is a piece of first class commercial writing in the Cyberpunk genre. Where it’s predecessor replaced the film noir stylings of William Gibson with a western theme this is a murder mystery espionage thriller in space. A damn good one in fact.

    This post has been filed under Cyberpunk Books by David Gentle.


    March 14, 2007

    Book Review By: David Gentle

    Author: Walter Jon Williams

    Year: 1986

    Category: Cyberpunk Books

    Hardwired Book Cover


    Hardwired was born in the aftermath of Neuromancer and shares that novels idea of a central relationship between a man and a woman in which the man is a techie and the woman the hardass. Fortunately it doesn’t share much else, it’s tone being less film noir and more dime store western. That’s not necessarily a criticism because Cowboy, the central male, clearly sees himself as a product of the dream of the American west. He used to be a pilot flying home-built deltas to make sure the mail got through but when that business got destroyed by the orbital Soviet he and others like him switched over to driving tricked out hovercraft called “Panzers” with which they try to smuggle cargo across “the line”, the border between the real west and the midwest.

    You’ll notice the reference to an “Orbital Soviet”, the idea being that the communist Soviet block survives into the middle of the 21st century and prospers in space leaving the foolish and impoverished capitalist nations to wallow in the mud at the bottom of the gravity well. We forget just how unassailable the soviets looked up until the end of the ’80s and it’s not uncommon in CP literature of the time to find a depiction of a futuristic Communist state because everyone in the world of Cyberpunk literature just assumed they’d keep on being an important Superpower forever and that therefore they had to be depicted.

    At one point Cowboy, flying in a delta (a kind of futuristic jet fighter built in a garage out of carbon fibre and epoxy resins) shoots down an unarmed private jet because one of the people on it has been trying to kill him. At no point does he try to find out who else is on the ‘plane. He has no moral qualms about it either, he just wishes it had been a more satisfying fight, yet elsewhere we find him worrying about the welfare of children who live (apparently as sex slaves) with his benefactor Rune.

    While Cowboy sees himself as a man of principle (despite his unacknowledged lapses) “in it for the ride, not the cargo” Sarah is a prostitute and assassin (tricked out with a bizarre throat mounted cyberweapon) willing to do pretty much anything (undergo extensive plastic surgery to get close enough to an aging man who’s been cloned into a young Asian woman’s body to kill him/her) to get herself and her appalling brother Daud off of Earth and into orbit where everyone important seems to live. She strikes me as more of a cipher than Cowboy. I don’t believe that anyone in her position would be quite as resolute as she is.

    The two protagonists come together in the context of a botched delivery, go on the run together and then separately until there appears to be a way to to fight against the particular block of the orbital Soviet that is trying to kill them. There is no commitment romance and economics and a perverted/happy ending. Like a lot of other ’80s Cyberpunk it’s an extrapolation of then current morals into the future. There’s almost moral vacuum where the novel’s soul would normally be.

    While it’s hard to get excited about the tech on display in the novel at our point in the 21st century The handling of Cowboys enhanced sensorium (as when he plugs himself into the Panzer and Delta) are well handled and the idea of people prolonging their “lives” by downloading recordings of their brains into clones of themselves was newish at the time. Also the way economics is used as the most dangerous weapon in the endgame is clever.

    Hardwired is several notches above journeyman cyberpunk. Walter Jon Williams may have written space opera and an earthquake novel since he wrote Hardwired but he seems to have grasped most of the essential elements of ’80s CP.

    It may be coat-tail riding but it’s a really good ride.

    This post has been filed under Cyberpunk Books by David Gentle.