On a giant space-station colony, an outlaw hacker must use all his enhanced biology and cybersleuthing to survive when a deal goes awry and makes him the target of a lethal conspiracy.
Just like ska music, cyberpunk is a lively genre that refuses to die despite even critics in the sci-fi field declaring it has passed its expiration date (or operating system reset point). In this novel, Harritt (Fate’s Hammer, 2017, etc.) brings the kewl slang, outrageous violence, kinky sex, wild body modifications, and smug hacker smarts to a far-future environment: “New Eden,” a 26-kilometer-long space station/colony somewhere among the outer planets of the solar system. Originally built for religious exiles leaving an increasingly unfriendly Earth, New Eden has since evolved into its own roiling, decadent, wide-open culture of 4 million misfit residents, dominated by corporations and “Guilds” rather than a central government. That fact seems to be at the heart of a shadowy conspiracy that engulfs Gregor Skotta, aka Robards, aka Níðhöggr, a “jacker,” or hacker for hire, a brainy tough guy from impoverished origins. He sells digital secrets, combining tech savvy with genetically modified, enhanced muscles and martial arts moves. But a seemingly routine handover of merchandise to his connection turns into a bloodbath that leaves both attackers and some important Guild executives dead. Held accountable, Skotta deploys all his wits and devices in the chase of his life through the bowels, firewalls, and airlocks of New Eden.
Harritt hits the ground running with the action and dismemberment and will keep readers’ interest even as he clicks off the familiar genre touchstones, from the involvement of a by-now-obligatory Japanese yakuza dynasty (space-age samurai/ronin stuff; all otaku know the drill) to mortal combat against “battle synths” that are pretty much remote-controlled Terminator robots. Characters loom larger than life, and there’s evident effort to make the narrator/hero (who has a lost love out there in cyberlimbo but sleeps with just about any woman anyway) a really dangerous sort—callously killing one nameless marginal character for following him. He nonetheless maintains a street-gang Bushido ethic, or at least remains a better person than the vague but fiendish master villains bent on transforming New Eden into hell. True, the IT talk sometimes weighs heavy enough that readers will be tempted to call tech support (“Every night they erased the specific lines of code that opened the current back door, and every night the TIK kept replicating and evolving, changing its code slightly so they couldn’t purge it completely from their servers, burying itself further into the OS kernel”). But a good amount of nifty twists and hair-raising fights carry the story over the minor buggy patches.
Not exactly revolutionary in the hardware/software of cyberpunk sci-fi but fun and fast enough to keep fans’ mental joysticks busy.