Change for the Machine
I’d kinda forgotten how much I love good cyberpunk until I read this and Trouble and her Friends. Turns out I really really like it.
Interestingly, in many ways this feels like a prequel to much of the cyberpunk I’ve read. The main contention is the invention of putting sockets into people’s heads to allow them to experience and manipulate the datelines (read: internet) more directly… the result of which, or something similar, is what Gibson and Scott and their friends are basically examining. So from a ‘getting started’ perspective I found this book really awesome, and in lots of other ways too.
Cadigan takes the ‘cast of thousands’ approach, using multiple perspectives (although always in third person) to show lots of different dimensions and angles to the story. There were times at which this was a bit confusing, but on reflection I wonder if this wasn’t done intentionally. There were quite a few chapters which shifted perspective where the new character could have been one of several, and it’s only revealed whose story we’re reading after a page or so. This contributed to the fairly frenetic feel that the entire book indulges in, which is largely appropriate given the madness that ensues in the second half of the story. It’s also very nice because the variety of characters and their individual stories give wonderful perspective and insight into different aspects of the story. Which I liked.
The world Cadigan has created is simultaneously a bit dated – it was published in 1991 – but, once some of the terms are translated, also quite recognisable. She talks of datalines and how people get their news; that’s basically souped-up data retrieval services and massively hyped up RSS readers that do the work for you. And then they use the sockets initially to rev up rock music videos, which is just such an hysterically funny idea that the sheer bizarreness just carried me away giggling and happily belief-suspended. Also, there’s a lot of drug use. Which is perhaps neither here nor there, but also certainly adds to the manicness.
The plot revolves around the introduction of sockets and what that might mean for society, with a whole lot of corporate hijinkery and espionage and hackery as well. There’s a father/daughter relationship that pops up every now and then – not something you see every day in this sort of futuristic novel – as well as, somewhat surprisingly when you see the characters, a love story that’s not very romantic in one way, but actually really is sweet in a fierce I’ll-deck-you sort of way. Plus a load of bizarre and whacked friendships and enmities that go a long way towards populating this world with dysfunctional but quite entertaining characters.
This was my first Cadigan novel. I’ll be coming back for more. (In fact I have Tea from an Empty Cup sitting on my shelf….)