The cyberpunk phenomena has lead to a plethora of fascinating works of fiction. Enhanced humans, transhuman problems and fusion-powered bad guys are only part of the appeal. The other side of the story, as I’ve discovered, is part of the timeless narrative of character development and fantastic storytelling.
One such example is Shadow of a Dead Star, by Michael Shean. The story takes place in 2078 Seattle, a city marked by its consumerism and abject depravity. At the core of this soulless world is detective Tom Walken, a man driven to seek justice. In a nation where corporations run the police, he is tasked with stopping shipments of banned contraband. One night, he’s ordered to confiscate three living sex dolls – called Princess Dolls – abominations that come out of illicit offshore labs. Predictably, the raid goes horribly wrong, and Walken must submerge himself in Seattle’s vile underbelly in order to crack the case. However, he’s in over his head and between him and his hacker partner Bobbi January, he needs to untangle a web of deception that threatens to engulf all of humanity.
I was sucked right in by this book from the moment I picked it up. The descriptive value is almost cinematic. Painstaking detail is used to describe every facet of this rich and gloomy universe. The clothes, hairstyles, plastic surgery, and even the cars are fleshed out until they’re more realistic than the room you’re sitting in. Suffice it to say, Shean has a talent for descriptiveness. Whether he’s describing futuristic fashions or a shower of gore, you’re trapped in that moment with him.
The characters are also exceptional. Bobbi stole the show. She’s a lady hacker–smart-talking, resourceful and stunningly human. Her dimension gives this story a grounding point, a place the audience can cling to when the story gets crazy. In short, she’s a great, strong female character that the genre sorely needs. As for Walken, he’s a great, driven character who can lose himself in his own single minded need for justice. It’s all he believes in, and that faith is what sustains him until the very end.
In short, the mystery will keep you guessing until the very end. And, you will get it wrong, so just sit back and enjoy the ride. There’s a subtext to this story as well, lurking just below the surface. Social commentary, an intoxicating mystery and amazing world building are what’s made Shadow of a Dead star my favourite cyberpunk book of all time.
Do you have a favorite scifi or cyberpunk book? let us know in the comments!