My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I picked this up when it was first published back in 1996 simply because the inside flaps sang to the 27-year-old-me with all kinds of words and phrases I didn’t really get: “post-novel” … “meta-structure” … “deconstructionist-narrative” … wait … “cyberpunk!?” Oh, I had to have it. So I purchased it, read a few entries from it’s scrapbook like collection of articles, clippings, email texts, etc., and put it on my “to read” pile down in my office. After Y2K, when I had to get a “real job” at a “real company,” the book pretty much stayed down in the unused home office, until I came across it while remodeling … now 20 years later. I have since become a big fan of R.U. Sirius, having followed his writings and podcasts for years online, so now seemed a good time to finally sit down and actually read the book that I was so taken with in my youth.
I’m not sure “challenging” is the word to use … possibly “amusingly frustrating.” As mentioned, this is what the author’s term a “post-novel.” Essentially, it is a scrapbook of emails, articles, clippings, and essays starting in the then present, and carrying forward to the early 2000’s (which were the future at the time). Thrown together, they tell sort of a detached story about a government that goes insane with censorship of the ever expanding “electronic frontier” of information that is being made available. At the same time, their lack of understanding of technology gives rise to various movements, groups, cults, etc. who live sort of a half-real-world/half-virutal existence on message bords, chat rooms, tobacco bars (cigarettes are a controlled substance in this nightmare future), mental institutions (spolier?), and religious compunds. Countering this narrative is a separate story made up of email exchanges between the authors and the publisher discussing the trials and tributions of writing and publishing the book you’re reading. This seems absurd at first, they are actually discussing how contrived everything is, how you can slap “cyberpunk” on anything and people will buy it, and how they really don’t have a story or a climax worked out, but since they’ve already spent their advances, they have to come up with something. About halfway through the book, this “author commentary” starts to take on a dramatic plot of it’s own, with elements of this realitiy becoming influences for the fictional reality of the “scrapbook” storyline, and that’s when things get a little confusing.
As both storylines became increasingly ludicrous and build towards the “meta-climax,” you tend to lose track of what happened to which manifestation of the author/characters 200 pages earlier, and everything sort of just blends together into surrealism out of lazy exhaustion– or possibly this was the intent. By the time you get to the two page climax of the “scrapbook” which I wouldn’t exactly call a deus ex machina so much as a deus ex parachute to get out of the crashing plane, you realize that this is the only possible ending the book could have had. Either way, it doesn’t matter, because you read this as a historical/cultural reference of the early (scary) Internet era; not because you’re looking for a gripping story. In all, if you don’t stop to study it too much, you can enjoy some really neat ideas, a few good chuckles, and get a nice little light-to-moderate workout for your thought organ.