Sunday, August 21, 2016

Review of neoAddix by Jon Courtenay Grimwood

As is clear, the appearance of any sub-genre in fiction is noticed after the fact. Sources diverse, the individual components that bond it into a coherent motif are apparent but not universal. The first works identified as “cyberpunk” possess a cybernet here, a multi-national there, neon-noir here and virtual existence there. But it took William Gibson’s Neuromancer to unite them all into a single, identifiable concept, thus letting the world know what has been happening elsewhere, and by default beginning a second-wave. The second wave wherein writers consciously play with the components comprising the sub-genre, by the time the third wave has hit the mainstream, it has almost entirely been reduced to an easily identifiable aesthetic. Jon Courtenay Grimwood’s 1997 neoAddix is third-wave cyberpunk of the purest distillation.

Fully cognizant of the diverse elements comprising the aesthetic of cyberpunk, as well as possessing a sophisticated sense of style, Grimwood invests in neoAddix all of his knowledge of the sub-genre, producing a finely-honed product in the process. Where some readers may be displeased with Gibson for ignoring the more conventional side of crime and corruption in his cyberpunk Sprawl, Grimwood dives directly in, telling of dishonest CEOs, multi-national corp greed, Yakuza dealings in data terrorism, hipster street kids caught up in affairs over their head, and of course, data jockeys running the golden sphere of the global net. A hard-edged thriller, Grimwood keeps the pedal to medal the entire length of his neon-tinted thriller in perfect cyberpunk style.

A murdered haunts the streets of future Paris. Seeming to elude the police at every turn, things take a turn for the worse when the detective assigned the task of finding him is fired by her corrupt boss. The detective contacted by a mysterious virtual entity calling itself MAKAI in the aftermath, she’s asked to find a certain reporter to help get to the bottom of things. Meanwhile, a major CEO and his daughter are murdered within days of one another, and a silver-skinned street runner is kidnapped by an exceptionally lethal assassin. The reporter discovered half-dead and Yakuza lingering on the edges, all the characters eventually collide in a haunting scene of cultish proportion. The future is a strange, uncertain place to live.

Cyberpunk god-apparent, many look to William Gibson as the standard for the sub-genre. Thus, where Gibson relates the dirty side of near-future existence implicitly, Grimwood puts it front and center, and builds a thriller of a plot around it. Ice, data jockeys, multi-nationals, designer drugs, body implants—it's fully identifiable as grandpappy Gibson’s cyberpunk, just with a grittier, more entertainment-oriented edge.

neoAddix moves crisply and cleanly, the quick chapters pushing and expanding the story carefully and selectively. A novel that slowly gets more complex, Grimwood doesn’t force the reader to pass a gauntlet of characters and settings in the first few pages, rather doles matters out, a piece here and a piece there. Returning to people and places in the spaces between, the complete structure of the novel takes its time being built, the whole coalescing into a big bang of money, drugs, technology, and blood. The ending was for me a bit over the top, but certainly there are readers who will find the sudden escalation to add even more excitement and interest.

In the end, neoAddix is a cyberpunk thriller written purely for entertainment purposes. Violent for sensationalist purposes (not a Cormac McCarthy commentary on human condition), Grimwood puts as much attention into the style and prose as he does the details that flesh out the common conception of what a cyberpunk story should be. For lack of a better expression, the novel is the commercial version of Neuromancer—a vividly conscious third-wave cyberpunk novel.

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