Monday, October 17, 2011

100 Books 56 - Guy Haley's REALITY 36



Man, it's been a while since I've gotten to dig into some good old cyberpunk. I'd almost forgotten how much I enjoy it.

That's not to say that Reality 36 is cyberpunk, precisely -- it strays a bit from the classic Gibsonian high tech/low life scenario -- but Gibson and the genre he spawned are an influence woven proudly into the nanowired smart fabric of the virtual sleeves of Haley's 22nd century gumshoes, the ex-military cyborg, Otto Klein and his AI partner Richards. They owe a bit, too, this pair, to Richard K. Morgan's Takeshi Kovacs. But they're their own men, er, entities, er, sentients. And damn, are they ever cool!

The nature of the case they're on as this novel unfolds is not clear for a lot of it. Lots of narrative threads spin out independently of each other both in the real world and in a virtual world that used to be a game but is now, along with all the others, set aside as a sort of ecological preserve; the detectives' ultimate quarry-cum-client is the guy who originally led the legal/political battle to liberate and establish civil rights for artificial intelligences (who by the 22nd century have become sophisticated enough to achieve sentience), aka Neukind, not only in the ordinary human world but also in those game worlds. It's a crime, he has persuaded society, to create intelligent, thinking and feeling life, solely for the purpose of being hunted for sport in games. That's right: in this world, all those zombies/boars/evil wizards/Nazis we so enjoy mashing buttons to mow down are citizens, yo. And have a right to live out their own lives in whatever weird world they've found themselves in.

That's just one of the many intriguing ideas and issues Haley tackles in this novel -- but it never gets preachy or thinky or overly philosophical. Otto makes sure of that (lots of explodey action bits; a film version in the 80s would definitely have Arnie playing him -- hey, Otto's even got a German accent!), and so, in his way, does Richards, possessing, at one point, a barely sentient forklift (the Internet of Things plays a satisfyingly big role in this plot as well) in order to rescue his buddy after he's blundered into a trap. A smart and resourceful and refreshingly matter-of-fact female co-protagonist, Veronique (and her sidekick/phone, Chloe) rounds out the main crew and ties the whole story together very neatly. Too, Veronique provides the console cowboy edge every good cyberpunk yarn needs; she spends a lot of the novel hooked up to an IV drip-and-catheter in the Real so she can hunt down the mastermind in one of the game worlds alongside a pair of the aforementioned liberated game AIs. It's all very complicated and glorious.

And of course, Richards and Klein, Security Consultants, is going to be a series. I got a bonus short story about them included with Reality 36 in my Angry Robot ebooks subscription and a proper sequel is slated for publication next year. BRING IT ON!

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