I’ve been reading a number of novellas and some children’s books, so suddenly felt like getting my teeth into something a bit more meaty and this alluring, dark cover beckoned to me from my teetering To Be Read pile. So I scooped it up and dived in…
In Synners, the line between humanity and technology is hopelessly slim. The human mind and the external landscape have fused to the point where any encounter with ‘reality’ is incidental. Now you can change yourself to suit the machines – and all it will cost you is your freedom. And your humanity.
This cyberpunk winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award takes a while to get going as the group of disparate characters are established amongst a tech-heavy world in a near-future where everyone is increasingly reliant on their technology. Given that this was written and published back in 1992, before many of our current technological gismos were in current use, Cadigan’s world is eerily prescient. I felt very at home with much of her near-future predictions, which is a tad worrying when considering how it all ends.
When there is a number of main characters, there are always the one or two who particularly chime – for me, these were Gina, who hooked up with the video star Visual Mark twenty-something years ago and is still drifting in his wake as he becomes increasingly lost to his videos and drug-taking. Though she is still a name to contend with, as her daredevil stunts in Mark’s videos have earned her respect throughout the industry. She sings off the page with her cynical, acidic asides and her gritted passion for what she believes in. The other character I really loved is poor old Gabe, the typical artist-turned-corporate-wage-slave, who makes advertisements, while wishing he did almost anything else. To allay his boredom and sense of futility, he regularly escapes into a classic game using a hotsuit to enable him to virtually interact with the two main characters in the game.
This is one of the main attributes of cyberpunk – not only to pull the reader into a high-tech, near-future world, but also into cyberspace where reality exists in the interface between humanity and machines. And the best of this genre takes you there, immersing you into an altered landscape, where memes and symbols take on different meanings that the reader completely accepts.
Therefore when it all starts kicking off, two-thirds of the way through this one, Cadigan’s virtual world sings off the page in a blend of poetry and prose as she depicts her characters’ rich inscapes with complete conviction. This is why I am prepared to slow down my normal reading rate for this particular genre and pay attention – because the rewards are so very satisfying when it is done well. Needless to say, the climax is beautifully handled, and the final third of the book was difficult to put down as the plot continues gathering momentum during the ongoing crisis and humanity attempts to fight back. And in this genre, there is no guarantee of a ‘happy ever after’ ending.
I finally put the book down, aware of coming back to the present from a long way away – always the mark of a master worldbuilder. So while Synners takes time to get going, my advice with this one is to persevere – it’s worth it.