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Hammerjack by Marc D. Giller

01/11/2005. Contributed by Shaun Green

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pub: Bantam Spectra. 355 page enlarged paperback. Price: $12.00 (US), $17.00 (CAN). ISBN: 0-553-38311-0.

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In the grand tradition of action-packed cyberpunk fare, Giller wastes no time in getting the ball rolling. 'Hammerjack' opens with a couple of cops investigating unusual activity at a metropolitan research building. The entire building has been sealed off and the security systems are activated but no word has come from inside. Outside are gathered hundreds of 'street species' - the sub-cultural underclasses of Giller's dark future. Something strange is going on. Corporate Special Services, who long ago made the civil police force obsolete, seem hesitant to intervene. One of the cops heads inside and is very briefly made a player in the world-shaking events that are about to unfold.

Cray Alden is a spook with a hidden past. He works for a man who is a powerful servant of the world-governing corporate body known as the Collective. During what should have been a routine snatch-and-grab mission, he is inadvertently hurled into the middle of a growing conflict between the corporate Collective and a mysterious anti-technology cult known as the Inru. All of a sudden, Cray is hot property and everyone wants a piece of him.

In many ways, Giller has crafted a novel that feels like authentic 1980s cyberpunk. The comparison is tired but this story is particularly reminiscent of early Gibson, specifically 'Neuromancer'. Big bad corporations rule the Earth and the people are disposable. The 'street species' have different faces and curiosity-piquing new names but we've seen them before. Heavily moded designer humans make up half the cast and cynical, powerful figures the rest. 'Cyberspace' is even envisaged in a similar sort of manner to that imagined in the eighties. Sadly, Cray is an archetypal cyberpunk protagonist in that he is swept along by events and rarely exerts any real control over what is happening. Fortunately the two main members of the supporting cast are well-drawn femme fatales and I found myself cheering them both on, despite one of them being a staggeringly nasty piece of work.

Overall, the sense of familiarity is no bad thing. It's a comfortable familiarity that allows the reader to focus on the story itself. That said, there are elements which make it clear that this is a contemporary novel. The Inru are religious fanatics with a core following of easily manipulated individuals from the dregs of society. Comparisons have been made between the Inru and al-Qaeda. I think that this is a crude comparison and belies the respective complexities of both the Inru and the religious fanaticism that is a part of our own world. Nonetheless, it is unusual to see religion, particularly anti-tech religion, given such a powerful role in a cyberpunk story.

I was also surprised by the conclusion. I shan't offer any spoilers but I wager that you will not be expecting what eventually comes about. In some ways, it struck me as indicative of how even cyberpunk is becoming increasingly cynical. On another level, I found it dissatisfying and hope that the forthcoming sequel 'Prodigal' will address some of my concerns. Still, I have no desire to end this review on a low note and will instead recommend this excellent page-turner to fans of Gibson, Sterling, Morgan, Asher and cinematic cyberpunk.

Shaun Green

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