When I first decided to review this novel, I thought it would be about some kind of heathen robots, given that the title was Synners, but it’s nothing of the sort. According to blurb on the book jacket, Synners are “(members of) the online hardcore, an outlaw band of hackers, simulation pirates, and reality synthesizers hooked on artificial reality and virtual space.”
Pretty routine stuff for the genre, you’re thinking, right?
Again, nothing of the sort. When I did some preliminary research, I discovered what makes this book different from all the other techno-fantasies that fill bookstore shelves today.
Synners was originally published back in 1991. Back in the semi-Dark Ages of technology, when computer viruses, virtual reality, online hacking and other seemingly dreamlike technological advances were at the cutting edge of the field, known about by a few techno-wizards and cared about by practically no one else.
Author Pat Cadigan’s amazing prescience at how our world would evolve within a few short years won her the coveted Arthur C. Clarke Award in 1992, as well as again in 1995 for her book Fools, distinguishing her as the only person to win this award twice. The present edition of Synners is a re-release, unchanged in its original content and now featuring a forward by Neil Gaiman, best known as the author of The Sandman fantasy comic series.
The plot of Synners concerns a company called Diversifications, Inc.‘s discovery of a way to put sockets in a person’s head that connect to the brain in order to directly deliver their product (initially the music videos that many of the main characters are involved in producing) into a person’s consciousness without needing a “middleman” - radio, personal audio player or datalines (startlingly similar to our current picture-within-picture technology.)
The initial guinea pig for this experiment is Visual Mark, who has an unusually vivid imagination and is considered a perfect specimen for testing. Lurking in the background, however, is an unscrupulous gent called Manny who has other plans for the information that is to be planted in people’s brains. Once the experiment with Visual Mark is deemed a success, sockets are implanted into people worldwide. A virus is implanted in into the network serving these sockets (you’ll have to read the book to find out how) and it’s up to Synners (who created the virus in the first place) to remove it and save humanity.
Along the way, there is an interesting cast of characters, including Gabe, the father of a Synner, who escapes the doldrums of middle age and a humdrum existence by spending his time in a “hot suit,” a virtual reality device that allows him to exist in a cyber world with two beautiful women, beating up bad guys and saving the world. As the plot heats up, many of the characters also find themselves in this same virtual world. The reader must pay close attention in order to distinguish the “real” world from the fantasy cyber existence.
Ms. Cadigan has crafted a very intricate and well-plotted work that should appeal to fans of cyberpunk, sci fi and even mystery/suspense. It works wonderfully both as a cautionary tale about whether or not we should do something just because we can do it and as just a good read that will have you quickly turning pages to try and discover exactly what’s going on. As a cyberpunk novel, it’s as gritty and detail-oriented as anything William Gibson has published, and written in the classic style of the genre - which means there’s more cussing (especially the “f” word) in Synners than in anything I’ve read in a long time. This is particularly interesting in light of my research, which revealed that Cadigan earned her living for ten years writing Hallmark greeting cards, of all things.
Man, is she making up for lost time . . .
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