Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Hardwired




It is a cyberpunk classic of sorts.

I was in a used bookstore over the holiday break and came across an old edition of Hardwired by Walter Jon Williams.  Back in 1993, Chris from Dorkland had an extra copy of the book procured through either mistake or hornswoggling.  So he gave it to me (ain't he a nice fucker?)  I read it and then somehow lost the book while moving apartments two years later.

It's been a few decades but I can still remember the basics of the plot.  America has been ruined through a war with the Soviets.  Not just a piddly nuclear war, but a "rock war."  In such an exchange (if I remember it correctly), chunks of rock are thrown at the other side as kinetic energy weapons.  You know, get a fair-sized boulder hurling down on you from miles above and you can have a pretty big bang.  What's left of America are a series of balkanized states overseen by Orbitals, corporations that have set up shop in Earth orbit above the mess.

Enter our hero, Cowboy (yes, that's his name.)  He flew fighter jets during the war (I think) and is now a simple man trying to make his way in the wasteland.  Via cybernetic connections in his skull, he interfaces directly with his own personal hovertank and offers his services as a smuggler out to the highest bidder.  He gets together with another mercenary named Sarah.  Guns blazing, they strike out against the Orbital corporations controlling their lives.

While it's not exactly a literary masterpiece, I still like many of the concepts.  True, the whole Cold War angle feels dated and long-gone, but there is more to it.  I've always liked the idea of kinetic energy weapons as they would be relatively cheap to produce and would yield extraordinary firepower.  Then there's the punkish DIY vibe Williams kicks out in places.  Cowboy at one point flies a delta wing fighter that sounds similar to a stealth.  It was built in a garage using epoxy and other materials readily available.

I'll go ahead and chance it and say that the book is still relevant today.  It tells the story...however pulpy...of marginalized people using what they have on hand to make life work.  It regales us with a timeless narrative of "sticking it to the Man." Always nice to dream, isn't it?

 Oh and if you liked Roger Zelazny's Damnation Alley, there's a strong chance you'll like Hardwired.




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