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Book review

Synners

by Pat Cadigan

Synners

This is another early cyberpunk work – I seem to be having a couple of months where classics like this are appearing in my to-read queue! Pat Cadigan writes beautifully, and she brings more to the individual characters than many of the other early cyberpunk authors. See this insight into the mind of one of the lead characters:

She had the guilts over the coffee even as she couldn’t wait to drink half of it at one gulp. Modern life was making her sick by trying not to make her sick.

The underlying theme is our interactions with our technology – how much do we change for it, as opposed to changing it to work better for us. Gabe, the protagonist, is a “synner” – a synthesizer, who can take images from the brains of artists and spin them into a media package suitable for mass consumption. Here he is, spinning off down this thread when he’s standing in front of a vending machine, and someone says he looked like he might need a few coins for it:

‘Ah. I thought you looked like you needed, um, change for the machines.’ Gabe shrugged self-consciously; he could feel the entire common room watching. The man’s smile was unexpectedly broad and sunny. ‘That’s a good way to put it. How did you know?’ Gabe had the sensation of going over a mental speed bump. ‘Excuse me?’ ‘My whole life has been, “Okay, change for the machines.” Every time they bring in a new machine, more change.’

In this future, a new technology – called sockets – is emerging, which allows people to plug themselves directly into the “dataline” – what we might call the Web. Synners who can do this become vastly more capable, and more commercially valuable. But is it dangerous? – what if there are monsters out there?

Neurons start firing in patterns over and over, and if they’re bad patterns, well, that’s too bad. You people got no shields. You put in sockets, but you forgot about the watchdogs and the alarm systems and the antivirals and the vaccines.

Reality isn’t out there, it turns out, it’s in our heads. The line for Gabe and his friends becomes increasingly blurred, and the action increasingly frenetic. Great stuff, from one of the founders of cyberpunk.

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