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Black Glass by John Shirley

01/04/2010. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy Black Glass in the USA - or Buy Black Glass in the UK

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pub: Elder Signs Press. 310 page enlarged paperback. Price: $15.95 (US. ISBN: 978-1-934501-07-8.

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I have to confess from the start that I have certain misgivings about the cyberpunk genre. More so when William Gibson professed in an interview a while ago that he was actually a technophobe. Hardly surprising when you consider that he had sizzled drug-users as computer programmers. A lot of people find it hard to do with their wits about them let alone stoned. Considering that its nearly thirty years since he wrote his books, cyberpunk has had a reduced interest now, mostly I suspect, because people live the cyberworld these days and even setting stories in a futuristic cyber-setting hasn't got the appeal that a computer game using similar boundaries has. Why read it, when you can do it? From that perspective, I doubt if Science Fiction is full of technophobes. It's one thing to put up warning signs to be careful with what you play with, quite another not to understand the pros and cons of the subject and give a better representation.

Oddly, John Shirley's novel 'Black Glass' uses the settings but doesn't go to the point where people live in cyberspace exclusively. It's not so much being jacked into the system but wearing a cyber-suit for interaction. The only problem with this is the story is in such a hurry that when the switch is made you tend to go along the flow rather than the indication that the rules have changed. This isn't just a criticism of this book as it happens elsewhere as well.

I should point out that 'Black Glass' is actually the name of a night club that appears briefly in the story and doesn't really have much to do with the story plot. In the future, if you've been found guilty of a crime then your personality is separated from your body and sedated for the period of the jail sentence and it's left as an obeying zombie. Hardly a way to reflect on your crime. If anything, you would expect to be a bit out of step with reality. Doesn't seem to make any difference to Richard Candle, a cyber-cop who took the fall for his younger brother, is released and discovers his sibling is still going about his criminal ways and resolves to do something about it. This doesn't seem to make much difference to either of them.

Oddly, when you expect the story to centred on Candle's quest to find his brother, John Shirley is forever going off on tangents with other characters, rarely giving you a chance to care about anyone. You get a better gist of the entire plot from the back cover than inside the pages when you read along, hoping for enlightenment. There's an artificial intelligence called the Multisemblant carrying the copied personalities that is out to get anyone it encounters.

The skeleton of the plot is actually very basic. Its bulked up with a lot of ideas but very little done to develop them which is a shame because Shirley is actually quite readable, even if it's in a somewhat daze as to what is going on.

If you think I haven't been critical enough here, then there's a good argument to say that cyberpunk needs a new revolution and a change based on what we know about computers today rather than rely so much on the Gibson period. Hopefully, there is someone in the wings for such a revolution.

GF Willmetts

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