Eric Nylund's fourth novel is touted by the publisher as "hyperpunk," but what is that, exactly? Is it the spastic child of cyberpunk? The willful offspring poking Father Gibson in the eye? While Signal to Noise introduces some fascinating virtual sleights of hand, the overall impression is of a continuation of the nano-techno-cyberpunk genre rather than a leap in evolution to a new form of fiction. |
This latest offering from the former Microsoft employee will undoubtedly thrill writers of code and the romantics who call themselves hackers. Nylund's main characters are affixed with permanent implants allowing instant access to cyberspace; a virtuality so vivid that they often prefer the virtual over the reality. The trouble begins when Jack Potter, an encryption expert who's done some shady work for the NSO, finds and decodes a message buried in old astronomical data. Contact with the outreaching alien and information bartering result. Unfortunately, someone else is watching, too. "Down the hall, bars rattled. It was a nice touch. Cold churned in Jack's stomach, diffused down his legs and up his spine. It was synthetic fear generated by the bubble. He fought it. DeMitri took a set of keys from his pocket, picked one out, then opened a cell door ... 'Alcatraz'--he spread his arms in a grand gesture--'is a reflection of what's on your mind, Jack. Feeling guilty about something?'"
The brilliance of Signal to Noise is in the science: the idea of looking out into the swirling sea of the cosmos and finding patterns hidden amongst the static hiss of the births and deaths of stars. At times, the math itself has more depth than many of the characters, who tend to be reminiscent of stock figures in pulp fiction. Which isn't to say that there's no fun to be had here. As the novel progresses, the ante is upped until Jack is bartering the alien for Earth itself. An extra implant crammed into Jack's brain against his will is starting to burn out his optical nerve, and he's no longer sure who his friends are. Log on to Signal to Noise to find out who the bad guys are, and who, if anyone, is going to survive.
Source: Jhana Bach, Amazon.com.