"Who do you love?"
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.
"If you can't fuck it and it doesn't dance. Eat it or throw it away."
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.
"This ain't rock'n'roll. It ain't been rock'n'roll for a long fucking time. This is business, and money, and change for the machines, but it ain't rock'n'roll.
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 fucked 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."