Killer apps outnumber the glitches in 20 short, bracing narratives of cyberpunk sci-fi.

Cyber World

TALES OF HUMANITY'S TOMORROW

An anthology of cyberpunk short fiction takes readers to a malleable world where advanced data technology and human interfaces create shifting realities, altered perceptions, and para-human intelligence.

There used to be a defiant rock-music catchphrase, “Punk’s not dead.” This anthology seeks to prove that cyberpunk’s not dead. The software and silicon-age subgenre of sci-fi, typified by direct interfaces between humans and data technology (be it cyborgs or virtual reality), burst onto the literary scene in the computer-hacktastic 1980s. But the once-buzzworthy trend was declared tiresome and defunct by its own godfather, William Gibson, only about a dozen years later. In his introduction here, Richard Kardrey sagely points out that if vinyl records and paper-making could make a comeback concurrent with tablet PCs and “Second Life,” then why not androids in the age of Android? These 20 compact stories exhibit the genre in its future-shock glory, as though Max Headroom never got canceled or Prodigy never went offline. The theme of body modification—especially the arbitrary, bewildering, and often desperate switching of genders—has particularly aged well (as in “WYSIOMG” by Alvaro Zinos-Amaro). The inherent multiculturalism of cyberpunk (telecommunications and powerful multinational corporations turning the world into a scaled-down global village) means many of the stories embrace diverse locales and beliefs. These include tales set piquantly amid the culture of war-distorted, futuristic Islam, where Allah possibly speaks through a veteran’s neural implant (“The Faithful Soldier, Prompted” by Saladin Ahmed); superpower-exploited Thailand, where nanotech is poised to execute the have-nots’ bitter revenge on the haves (“The Bees of Kiribati” by Warren Hammond); or denuded Nigeria, where biomechanical life forms are replacing humanity (“The Ibex on the Day of Extinction,” by Minister Faust). Many of the tales in this anthology, edited by Viola (Nightmares Unhinged: Twenty Tales of Terror, 2015) and Heller, are told in the first-person. As a result, they show off an argot of rich (if overused) cyberslang: “meatspace,” jokey Lord of the Rings references, and lines from Blade Runner. What may have changed since the 8088-processor days is that hardly anyone relies on “jacking in” to describe entering a virtual reality/online consciousness. “Diving in” seems to be the 2.0 version.

Killer apps outnumber the glitches in 20 short, bracing narratives of cyberpunk sci-fi.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Hex Publishers

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2016

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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Assembly-line legal thriller: flat characters, lame scene-setting, and short but somehow interminable action: a lifeless...

SPLIT SECOND

Two defrocked Secret Service Agents investigate the assassination of one presidential candidate and the kidnapping of another.

Baldacci (The Christmas Train, 2002, etc.) sets out with two plot strands. The first begins when something distracts Secret Service Agent Sean King and during that “split second,” presidential candidate Clyde Ritter is shot dead. King takes out the killer, but that’s not enough to save his reputation with the Secret Service. He retires and goes on to do often tedious but nonetheless always lucrative work (much like a legal thriller such as this) at a law practice. Plot two begins eight years later when another Secret Service Agent, Michelle Maxwell, lets presidential candidate John Bruno out of her sight for a few minutes at a wake for one of his close associates. He goes missing. Now Maxwell, too, gets in dutch with the SS. Though separated by time, the cases are similar and leave several questions unanswered. What distracted King at the rally? Bruno had claimed his friend’s widow called him to the funeral home. The widow (one of the few characters here to have any life) says she never called Bruno. Who set him up? Who did a chambermaid at Ritter’s hotel blackmail? And who is the man in the Buick shadowing King’s and Maxwell’s every move? King is a handsome, rich divorce, Maxwell an attractive marathon runner. Will they join forces and find each other kind of, well, appealing? But of course. The two former agents traverse the countryside, spinning endless hypotheses before the onset, at last, of a jerrybuilt conclusion that begs credibility and offers few surprises.

Assembly-line legal thriller: flat characters, lame scene-setting, and short but somehow interminable action: a lifeless concoction.

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 2003

ISBN: 0-446-53089-1

Page Count: 406

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2003

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