|author||K. W. Jeter|
|summary||A dark-as-its-name novel in the tradition of cyberpunk but with even more cynical twists.|
Mixing metaphors like cheap liquors, K. W. Jeter manages to meld an unlikely combination of fiction elements with the surprisingly palatable success of a Long Island Iced Tea. Add to that an almost gleefully cynical look at the future of copyright law, unrestrained capitalism, and the rocky bottom of our credit-driven economy's slippery slope. With a sometimes disorienting stream-of-consciousness style, stringing together metaphors like a psychedelic chain of pearls, Jeter introduces his audience to one brilliantly disturbing and fascinating concept after another, and in the end Jeter uses every one of them to wrap up the conflict. It's a nonstop freak show, a simultaneous dirty joke, horror tale, and social commentary. It's especially rewarding, coming from the author of the bestselling sequels to Blade Runner, Blade Runner 2: The Edge of Human and Blade Runner: Replicant Night.
On one level, Noir feels like cyberpunk: it is set in a postmodern dystopia recovering from collapse, populated by cybernetically enhanced misanthropes, with a plot that skirts the edge of a metaphorical landscape. But in this novel, there's no Cyberspace; just "The Wedge," a sexually deviant skid row ruled by a mysterious goddesslike figure. Those who dare can visit The Wedge in the flesh, but most visitors to the Wedge employ replicant avatars, "prowlers," which download their Wedge experiences to their owners, delivering accumulated memories served straight.
This brings me to a warning; Noir is not for the weak of stomach. Jeter wantonly and graphically sodomizes, decapitates, disembowels, dissolves and immolates his characters with intentional disregard for good taste, exploiting the same psychological niche as rotten.com, alt.tasteless and Hannibal. It has the attraction of a car wreck -- at first tolerable only in short doses, but ultimately irresistible. Part of this irresistibility is the intelligence, wit, and cynicism of Jeter's future vision.
Predictably enough, the protagonists are anti-heroes. But to Jeter's credit, their predictability ends there. John McNihil is an asp-head - a licensed bounty hunter of copyright violators, and a man who sold his wife into purgatory in favor of buying a set of optical implants that give him a film noir view of the world. Forget rose-colored glasses, he has smoke- and whiskey-colored contact lenses.
Self-employed heroine November is more likable, but a ruthless character nonetheless, with fingertip EMP implants that allow her to induce orgasmic epileptic fits in her stalkers-slash-victims, then casually ventilate their craniums with their own guns.
The story opens with the death of a mid-level corporate exec, Travelt. McNihil and November are hired by the antagonist, Harrisch, to track down his intellectual property lost in the Edge, somehow uploaded into Travelt's prowler. In contrast to the merely dislikable McNihil and November, Harrisch is revolting. He is the devious, manipulating and ruthless chief executive of DynaZauber, a megacorporation with interests in every aspect of society. Harrisch habitually murders his freelance operatives rather than paying them, and prefers to do the wetwork himself, rendered immune to prosecution by pre-emptory payoffs to local authorities, who themselves have been reduced to agents of corporate interest.
The first third of the story revolves around Harrisch's increasingly sadistic attempts to coerce McNihil into taking the job. November is Harrisch's insurance, the second-string operative, whom he also uses as a means to coerce McNihil. Be patient; Jeter uses these events to introduce concepts that foreshadow the climactic scene. And even after McNihil and November being their hunt for Travelt's lost prowler, we continue to be exposed to essential concepts that at the time appear to be mere gratuitous depravity and cynicism.
These ideas are what make Noir worthy of a Slashdot review, and I shall attempt to relate some of them without spoiling the plot, but in doing so, I cannot reproduce their sledgehammer impact on the story:
- The elevation of intellectual property to the ultimate standard of value.
- Violation of copyright becomes punishable by death, and later by the imprisonment of the violator's seat of intellect within "trophies" - such as toasters and audio equipment - delivered to the copyright holder.
- The rights of debt holders become supreme, outlasting even the death of the debtor. Those who die in debt are reanimated until they work off their debt, if they can.
- Corporate management philosophy becomes modelled after that of the street pimp; psychological destitution of the employee is embraced as the optimal strategy for human resource management.
- In the ultimate victory of marketing over content, TIAC, or Turd In A Can, becomes the overt ideal of capitalism: use marketing and packaging to sell the customer as little value as possible, for the maximum price.
You can purhase this book at Fatbrain.