Saturday, October 3, 2015

Review of Deja Vu by Ian Hocking

One of the main characters in William Gibson’s Mona Lisa Overdrive is the titular Mona. A drug-addicted prostitute wandering the Sprawl, she accepts an offer too good to be true, and loses her identity in the process: the surgeries she undergoes confuse any sense of self not already rattled by narcotics.  Gibson’s novel classic cyberpunk, the gritty noir of near-future permeates her story.  Revisioning Mona, Ian Hocking’s re-released Deja Vu (2014, Unsung Stories) tells a fast-paced cyberthriller about a young woman with a similar identity crisis. His Mona, however, is agent of her own future.

Saskia Brandt is Hocking’s Mona, and at the outset of Deja Vu is pressganged into a job she would rather not do but is forced to take due to past decisions: she is to track down a murderer.  Whisked away to London, she finds herself paired with the cynical Jago, and together the two begin putting together the pieces of David Proctor’s story.  A brilliant professor caught up in affairs over his head that result in the death of a colleague, Brandt tracks Proctor at her own peril, and in the process learns which past decisions haunt her today—and tomorrow.

William Gibson does noir perfectly, Bruce Sterling is more political savvy, and Pat Cadigan does the mindfuck of cyberpunk technology like no one else, but Hocking does these classic cyberpunk elements no disservice.  Streamlined to plot, Deja Vu utilizes familiar tropes to build a tightly packaged story that quickly achieves the force of a speeding car, and in the process examines, albeit lightly, the identity crises inherent to brain-bending tech.  Advanced virtual reality, memory-wipe technology, AI assistants, new weaponry, and a little time travel pull and push Saskia, Proctor, and those caught in the chase toward cybernoir futures.  Saskia may be author of her fate where Mona was a victim of circumstance, but Saskia’s situation in no way prevents her from getting ensared in the system, and in need of escape—fast.

In the end, Déjà Vu is a straightforward cyberpunk thriller, but a properly done one.  Hocking does not waste the reader’s time with spurious detail; the narrative is honed to a bare glint.  It makes such novels as Richard Morgan’s Altered Carbon look positively bloated.  Non-stop plot, neon-edged scenes, and hardlined characters in a cyber-fueled near future, Déjà Vu is a quick, solid read that succeeds where a lot of imitation material falls flat.

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