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Synners (SF Masterworks) Paperback – November 13, 2012
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Read Synners now, before it happens
Cadigan's multifaceted talent includes a strong gift for definitive hardcore cyberpunk
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Anyone looking for a dense read will find a welcome challenge in Synners. Memories and inner reflections thread through the scenes, filtering everything through the perspective of the current point of view character. The frequent change of perspective can be confusing at times, but the narrative voices are so distinct that audiences will quickly learn to recognize who the current narrator is, as each character struggles in their search for something real. Each perspective focuses on a personal journey, full of rich inner reflections, but leaves little room for any kind of overarching conflict.
Instead most of the story is spent orbiting a series of vague problems, using short lived struggles to explore issues of reality, art, and escapism, while avoiding any extended conflict that might root the story in a primary issue. The language is rich with evocative imagery and literary motifs, but eventually the illusion of meaning wears thin. The story settles into an 11th hour threat, uniting its diverse subplots into a climax rich with symbolic references to everything that came before. The potency of the ending is only marred by how estranged it feels from rest of the story.
-Weak Main Plot
However, characters do come together in a satisfying way and the big picture is a fascinating story about the development of neural interface tech and the consequences resulting from it. I would call this novel a slow burn.
Based on my own frame of reference with cyberpunk, if you like stuff like Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy full of street samurai, body mods, and corporate assassins, this may not scratch that itch. If a story that takes its time to explore tech, art, and the lives of somewhat more grounded individuals in a cyberpunk setting appeals to you, this would be a good choice.
The characters are nearly as sharp as the lines, and the world-building is complex -an info-LA plugged into every form of VR there was, from appetite-suppressant implants to insty-parties for the suburban wannabes, via somebody's gypsy cam and somebody else's wired up hot-suit. It has excellent space opera sub-stories, and wild ideas about the old SF chestnuts like, What is Human, and new ones like how human brain events might affect cyberspace.
With 20 years and change since the first reads, I worried that, like so many near-future cutting-edge novels, it wouldn't work when the future caught up. But the info-scene is actually right in line, the comp. science was so well done it hardly feels dated. The frenzy about viruses is all that seems a bit retrospective now. But the story still belts along like Metallica on fast forward, and the scenarios haven't lost an inch of punch. Esp. the melt-down viral breakout and the last showdown on the virtual lake-side - quick nod to "Stranger on the Shore" - with its scene-jumping almost as fast and confusing for the reader as it is for Gina and Gabe.
A few books aren't just a good read, but become a world you don't want to leave. I'm happy *Synners* is still in that small pile for me. If that's too far up the stupidsphere for anyone to whack to, in Synnerspeak - well,that's real shame for them.
Top international reviews
I could remember, back in the early 90's, being enthralled by Cadigan's vision of where technology would go, so approached rereading this with a certain amount of trepidation. (Some of the authors I loved then no longer appeal to me now.)
Thankfully "Synners" did not disappoint. I found it was still a marvellous read and was amazed at how prescient it was. I especially liked how her vision of the future assumed some things were eternal - traffic gridlock, queuing, poor customer service, huge,avaricious corporations to name but a few - which made it easy to overlook the things she did not predict.
This was probably my first encounter with anything that could be called a cyber-punk novel and it impressed me greatly and fortunately still does. If, like me, you read it years ago it is really worth rereading. If you haven't already read it , do, since it really deserves its accolade as a masterpiece.
Of course, when you can jack straight into someone's brain and pervert their sense of reality or steal the odd thought, things CAN get a bit rocky.
Synners is not an easy ride, but if you enjoy working hard at a book you'll LOVE it. From the first word you're dropped without warning into a possible future, just around the corner from here and now.
There's a great idiosyncratic cast, murder, machiavellian mystery, pathos, sex-drugs-&-rock n'roll, virtual reality, Artificial Intelligence, cybernetics... you name it. A fascinating plot woven by unusual, three-dimensional characters. Cadigan spins you up, down and sideways, but always with supreme control and elegance. A great wordsmith and a great story.
And if you think that's hard, try Mindplayers and Fools, too!
Although published in 1991 the world of Synners and L.A in the late 80's still feels relevant. More relevant than a lot of cyberpunk, even late first wave ones such as this. Pat Cadigan missed the normal technological advancements the genre is known for such as: cell phones. But reading it doesn't feel archaic though, maybe because it's a hard, purposeful look at nostalgia itself.
"The way we all kept adding to the nets did exactly that, passed a threshold. It got to the point where the net should have collapsed in chaos, but it didn't. Or rather it did, but the collapse was not a collapse in the conventional sense."
GridLid automates your car completely even handles all the traffic jams, resulting in people being fearful of non-automated systems, never having driven "manually" before. Entertainment is imbibed while the bumper-to-bumper traffic takes you hours to get to work. There is porn for everything. Traffic porn, med porn, war porn, food porn. People get off on most anything that's packaged as entertainment. And the stuff that isn't trending now, is gone. Viruses are prevalent and are just a hazard of the world; most people don't know how to get rid of them. Discarding technical know-how for the ease of products automating their lives.
That's where the punks come in, the hackers.
A slow build up hampers the book at first. Most of the pages are reserved for introductions to each. Though effective in the long term, it does take a while to get into it. But once it's done showing you the characters and by proxy, the world—the book is undeniably richer for it.
Where Synners is so interesting compared to some other first wave novels (beyond the world building aspects) is that there is kind of a post-cyberpunk vibe happening throughout, intentional or otherwise.
"We don't grieve for what might have been in rock'n'roll. We just keep rockin' on."
Gina is old enough to remember and venerate "properly," rock'n'roll music. This lauding of a wave that died out, along with the notion that "punk" is also dead is a consistent through line, reinforced with vivid imagery of music videos and lyrics from songs that just won't leave her alone. She is stuck in a self destructive loop that is explained by the impulses of the human body, rooting her problems in her humanity. Her pain seems to stem from her embodiment, yet she still wouldn't change a thing. Hard life, hard love, hard everything.
"Back in Mexico, when he first put the wires in when you were there. If you'd leaned down then, put your mouth on his, he might have stayed. Because after that nothing could pull him back, not love, not sex, not you. Not nothing, not no-how."
Visual Mark on the other hand chooses the "datalines" (the Internet) instead. Once a close couple, madly in love, eating each other up—now mature and unable to carry on with their relationship; effectively due to the past. Their mistakes, their nostalgia for them, and the various forms of coping so they don't ever have to deal with it, all damning of the societal structures in place. Mark unwilling to take true responsibility for them, instead shrugging them off to the system.
"He was still wondering what would become of him when he felt the first shock wave, followed by the last message he would ever receive from the meat."
The main thrust of the book is that "sockets" are invented, which would also be antiquated tech in most cyberpunk novels, and the world dives right in because capitalism. Diversifications, a megacorporation disseminates this new and unsafe tech to the masses. And while Gina hungers for the same power to make music videos "alive" again through the use of this technology, possibly rekindling everyone's love for rock'n'roll again, as well as Mark's own love for her. Mark allows it to consume him whole.
Through the eyes of many of the characters we see what capitalism has wrought. Only this time it's through this more interesting lens rooted in music; quizzically, not punk. The idea that the first wave was almost gone and along with it, cyberpunk as a subgenre, parallels Gina and Mark's struggle with their past and glory days. How enticing our memories make events that were actually horrible; allowing us to view the wreckage of our lives with rose-coloured glasses. Post-cyberpunk in that it seems to critically evaluate the genre, subverting it in a few places.
Mark himself could represent the genre as it existed in first wave. He is an anti-hero, unlikeable but attractive in non-conformative ways. His past has destroyed parts of him, including some brain damage that makes him even better at using tech to become more than he is now, transcending himself. Leaving "the meat," as he so often refers to it, behind. He has a particular affinity and knack for something because society has messed him up; the "system" has damaged him. The typical protagonist for early cyberpunk.
"I'm not really in there, now. I'm maintaining it, but there's nobody home. I know it doesn't happen that way for you, but that's how it is for me. "
Gina can interact with people just fine, though. She is more-or-less "well adjusted" and chooses to be a voice of dissent. Picking physical conflicts and verbal ones, choosing embodiment every step of the way. How she interacts with people, especially if they are seen by her as being a part of the system that has essentially destroyed the love of her life, Visual Mark, is by being angry. Being a punk. She is a part of an older generation, now been left behind. She's angry, and tired, and does exactly what she wants when she wants to. The only weakness she has is Mark, the personification of this old way of life that she cannot let go. The wound in her mouth that would heal; if she'd only stop tonguing it.
The book is primarily (as I see it) about examining embodiment; the products of our society and commodification of anything of value. Who power structures benefit and what those wounds might look like in a cyberpunk future becoming an allegory for the targeting of the unlucky few, who grow to be far too many. How powerful nostalgia is, a resurgence of it being inevitable, often; usually by means of any advancement in technologies. It's smart, funny, at times; easy to empathize with, and features good prose mixed with a cyberpunk aesthetic that feels like a prequel while being critical of the genre as it was about to "die."
It's worth reading.
"But it's different when you think you have no choice, and then suddenly you do after all."
I don't like to mention the plot of the books as I think is best for the reader, so you won't have any comment about it in this review.
As I'm Spaniard, it's a pity that there's no spanish edition of this book for I would had gladly bought it as a gift for some of my friends who are not so fluent in english.
One of (if not) the best books I've read this year.
The second aspect that was disappointing was the character relationships - I mean, who really cares about people who continue to invest in relationship with total wasters? There's unfortunately a good bit of that in the book as well, and as another reviewer pointed out, you simply don't care what happens to them. Also, the teen love interest plotline is laughable, but presented as a massive heartbreak when what it really is just a stupid infatuation by a girl with her head up her ass.
Too many of the characters are trying to be hip and cool, while other characters are supposedly hip and cool without trying. It says a lot about the book that I was rooting for the 'evil corporate executive' - I mean, at least he was trying to achieve something instead of moping around helplessly.
There are some interesting comparisons with Gibson's work, but that's it. You won't automatically like Synners if you loved Neuromancer, because Neuromancer was an action driven story. I didn't care for the dismissive lines in the books intro either in relation to that...