A return to the present makes this SF scribe more prescient than ever.
It’s been a long time since Gibson wowed us with Neuromancer (1984) and the rest of the Sprawl trilogy that changed the then-moribund field of science fiction forever. Unfortunately, it’s been a hard act to live up to. His latest might not satisfy his readers’ high level of expectation, either, but it’s doubtless his best work since Count Zero (1986). Even though it’s his first novel set entirely in present time, there’s a sense that he’s getting back to his roots. The heroine, Cayce, is a nod to the hacker in Neuromancer who became the prototypical cyberpunk antihero. She’s a cool, slinky, yet insecure piece of mystery who has a near-oracular ability to predict the Next Big Thing. After being called in to consult on whether a new logo will work, Cayce says only one word, “No,” and her fee is earned. She’s then hired for a bigger project by über-cool marketing firm Blue Ant to investigate the origins of a strange series of film clips—over a 130 now—that have been showing up on the Internet and attracting a wide cult of fans, including Cayce, who try to figure their origin and purpose. Soon Cayce is jetting off to Tokyo, back to London, then off to Russia, following the wispiest threads of evidence, rumor, and blind conjecture. Someone’s tracking her, and a sinister fog of suspicion fills Cayce’s jet-setting, wireless world. Gibson’s narrative is more relaxed than it has been in years, trusting in Cayce’s strangely addictive personality and in his own laser-perfect cultural radar—Malcolm Gladwell meets Marshall McLuhan in a chat room—to carry the story along. Some elements could have easily been jettisoned (Cayce’s literal allergy to brands and logos is ridiculous), but for every misstep there’s a dash of pure, beautiful insight: “We have no future because our present is too volatile . . . We have only risk management. The spinning of the given moment’s scenarios. Pattern recognition.”
A slick but surprisingly humane piece of work from the father of cyberpunk.