RogerBW's Blog

Synners, Pat Cadigan 04 July 2020

1991 cyberpunk science fiction. In a future California recovering from the Semi-Medium One (the Big One is still waiting to happen), music video creators, VR artists and corporate greed collide.

"I'm going to die," said Jones.

The statuesque tattoo artist paused between the lotuses she was applying to the arm of the space case lolling half-conscious in the chair. "What, again?"

Those are the opening lines. And it's not just a throwaway reference; yes, Jones has died before, and there's a reason for that.

There are perhaps too many characters here: Gabe the failing advertising man, Gina the music video producer who's being forced out of the company she helped build now that it's been acquired by one of the majors, Sam the teenage hacker, Gator, Jones, Fez, Rosa, Keely… in a lesser book this wouldn't be a problem because they'd just be background, but here they aren't just plot-dispensers, they feel like actual people with their own desires and flaws.

The kid obviously wasn't used to alcohol. Young people, Mark reflected sourly. They'd always had it too clean, too efficient, even in their drugs. They took stuff that did one thing, or one other thing, and it was all a terribly neat way to get toxed. Sharpshooters; they couldn't stand up to the old cannonball.

And it's not at all obvious at first just what's going on. Here are these individual stories, which seem to be crossing over, but how are they going to interact and why does it matter? Like the significance of various characters, that's a slow reveal, and the reader not used to this kind of SF puzzle may find it a slog to get there, without much in the way of signposts.

I didn't, though. This is cyberpunk that actually has the punk sensibility. Where Gibson's heroes spend their time being jealous of the Man's neat toys, Cadigan's wouldn't want to become the Man if you paid them all the money. And some of them may get that choice. (And I don't believe there's any gunplay in this book at all. What's happening is far more significant than that.)

Oh, also, we have plenty of female characters, who aren't just there to be hurt or to act as sex-dispensers for the hero. Funny how I didn't notice that back in the day. I do now.

Even if the security guards had been interested enough to pop on the fingertip-sized 'phones and take a listen, all they would have heard was hard-core speed-thrash, in stereo. Speed-thrash was undergoing yet another renaissance as a new generation discovered it was a great way to make everyone over the age of twenty-five give ground in a hurry, hands over ears. Sam was very fond of speed-thrash. She was seventeen.

There's a fair bit of picaresque in the early chapters, but it's all useful detail for the atmosphere of the world, and some of it will turn out to be extremely important. Though I think that one of the reasons I love this is that where Gibson says "oh yeah, we have this technology, that lets us be cool in a whole new way", Cadigan says "the introduction of this technology will cause major upheavals" and looks into those human stories. This is a book about changing the world.

And sure, the technical details don't match the present day. So what? If they did, Cadigan would probably be ruling the world. (Which might not be such a terrible thing.)

I've been very disappointed by many of my recent rereads of older books. Not this one. I loved it when it came out, and I still love it now. It doesn't rely on novelty for its effect; it's cyberpunk that stands up in the modern day when we know all about that stuff, just as well as it did when we were discovering it.

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  1. Posted by Dr Bob at 01:04pm on 04 July 2020

    I might hunt this out. It wasn't one I read in the original wave of cyberpunk. It will be interesting to see what it is like coming to it now.

    And yeah, I too would probably be okay with Pat Cadigan ruling the world! :-)

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