I read an excellent book recently.
Unfortunately it also has the misfortune of what is pretty close to the worst cover I have ever seen. I’ve owned it for quite a few months now and I still can’t get past just how dreadful it is.
Fools is the most genuine examination of identity within the cyberpunk framework that I have ever read. Pat Cadigan has created a very rich world with enough allegories and metaphors that are painfully pointed or sometimes very beautiful. These are layered neatly with literal interpretations, an exploration of the physical consequences of the ability to create false personalities and memories within the brain, all loaded into an excellent action-adventure full of all sorts of fun. It’s not what you’d call dry.
I don’t feel like I’m doing this book justice in that description.
For context I read Fools directly after Slow River by Nicola Griffith and they make for an interesting comparison. I’m not going to go into detail, but these two books exemplify to me what this idea of bio-punk SHOULD be about rather than letting it be led by Paolo Bacigalupi and that fucking awful embarrassment of a book The Windup Girl.
However, moving back to Cadigan, the reason I picked up Fools was I’d just read Synners and this was the only other book of Cadigan’s that I could easily find. For some reason, only one of her books has been put into the Gollancz SF Masterworks, which is a shame, because I think both these books are worthy of it. Book depository tells me Cadigan has an SF gateway omnibus collection featuring Fools, Mindplayers and Tea From An Empty Cup coming out in about four months. It’s basically moved to the top of my ‘to buy’ list.
Synners is very much the product of that old-skool cyberpunk period when Cadigan was roped into being the token girl in the boys’ club. Of all the cyberpunk (not much) I have read it does something the other books never managed: it makes the drive for technological post-humanism that all the characters have seem human, humane and relatable. Suddenly, you find yourself able to understand this desire and force, as well as the fun of a tech-ridden world. It doesn’t make hacking into a cool but unintelligible and mysterious dark art – it treats it as a skill and a mindset. It makes them relatable and learnable.
Cadigan fills the book with powerful imagery and concepts, and while some of the repeating phrases are clumsy and a little corny, the themes are kept grounded enough. On top of that, there’s an awareness of the socio-economic consequences that isn’t glossed over, which I think makes it feel more honest. It really hit me writing this. Synners is the book that has made cyberpunk seem like a sub-genre of value to me for more than just it’s hilarious and fun aesthetic (which I love to bits).
Both books are excellent, but Synners is probably an easier book to love. That said, both of these books have aged well, especially in comparison to many of the other cyberpunk novels of that generation. Definitely worth reading.
It’s a shame most of her books don’t seem to be as easily available as Synners.