Hardwired by Walter Jon Williams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I don't know why I never got around to reading this back when I used to see it all the time in the bookstores, even knowing that I was such a cyberpunk fan and the whole field was blowing up left and right. Maybe it was all the hardware and the focus on guns and metal that turned me off. I didn't really care about this kind of "punk" so much as I cared for the "cyber".
Granted, back in those days, I might have picked it up, read the blurb, maybe a few random dozen pages, and concluded that it was too cowboy-ee for me to care and I never would have begun anyway.
But today, I have a slightly more refined sensibility. I still don't care for westerns that much, but at least I've picked up the classics and seen that they were, in fact, good. I'm a fan of Clint Eastwood.
So while I'm still not a huge fan of the genre, I can at least appreciate what it does very well, and in some cases, much better than any other type of fiction. The main characters are Cowboy (yeah, that's what he goes by,) and Sarah, and both of them are very well rounded and interesting characters, full of subtle and not so subtle flaws and merits, detailed and fleshy histories, and an eventual love story that is neither gushy, idiotic, or verbose. It was built on quiet respect and blooming friendship. It was almost completely unlike what I was beginning to suspect the novel would wind up being.
Oh no, though, you say, what happened to the cyberpunk aspects? Was there lots of computer-y stuff and explosions?
Why, hell yes, I say! Dogfights in the sky! A battle against the orbitals, lots of scary smuggling runs, but more importantly, a heroic message about getting out from under the short-sighted concerns of the crazy, sick, and bodyless brains in crystal. The worldbuilding is more than solid, filled with past and lost wars, body-sculpting professions, and cocaine-rockets. (This did come out in 1987, after all, and it both shows and shows itself off well.)
Was I expecting it to be a bit of a knock-off of Neuromancer, riding the wave of such a fantastic book? Well, yeah, I guess I was. How did it stand up? Great, if you like more hardware and aerial battles that would make rather more pedestrian space-operas hang their heads in shame. I actually got into the battles, and I've never been one to particularly like military fiction.
I was very impressed not only by the execution of this novel, which never felt much like a knock-off, but because I really got into both the main characters. They weren't flashy or snarky. They weren't bigger than life like Holden in the Expanse or unreliable but still awesome like Kvothe in Name of the Wind.
Cowboy and Sarah felt like real people with real problems in a real world doing their real goddamned best in a really shitty situation.
I honestly liked this book a lot, even if it isn't my normal cup of tea. Why isn't this author sitting on more laurels?
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