RogerBW's Blog

The Night Mayor, Kim Newman 17 May 2018

1989 science fiction. In the City, it's always two-thirty in the morning, and raining. Mickey Rooney sells the papers and Barton MacLane is Captain of Detectives. All the noir films happen at once… and the guy behind it all needs to be taken down.

But it's all more complicated than that, because this is his hallucinated virtual reality. How do you kill God? Two Dreamers, authors of full-sensory hallucinations, will have to try.

Ah, 1989, when we may have thought William Gibson was going off a bit but the vast anticlimax of The Difference Engine was still in the future. Newman's first novel was a latecomer to the cyberpunk boom, but does an effective job of taking the technology for granted and asking more interesting questions: what will people do with it? And, of course, an awful lot of cyberpunk relies on noir tropes already…

All right, the villain is just too much of a villain; he belongs rather more in the black-and-white world than in the reality he lived in, which I suppose is a point of sorts.

'Do you know,' said Trefusis, clearly enthused on his favourite subject, 'when he finally came to trial, he was found guilty on 8,921 counts of first-degree murder alone, excluding his various thermonuclear adventures.'

But the point of the book is for Newman to show off his love for and knowledge of film noir, and one shouldn't forget that this was written in an era when finding out about Ralph Bellamy or Anna May Wong actually took some effort. The outer world, while amusingly grotesque, is set up to make this story possible.

At the same time, this is not just a game of spot-the-reference, a trick which has ruined many later works when it's overdone. There's a real story here, even if most of the people in it are literally extras; what happens to them still affects the principals.

The book is not perfect, certainly. The climactic moments of action are muddy and forced. Occasional steps away from noir into other genres are unsuccessful. But it's fun, in a way that far too much cyberpunk forgot to be.

Some editions include four earlier short stories, set in the same universe; they're amusing but disposable.

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