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Very Fun

By Eli James, editor

Jan 12, 2009: Picture the scene in the Matrix where Neo is standing at the edge, on the top of a drab office block. Freeze that scene and plaster the concrete and glass buildings with neon signs and kanji. Fill the streets with a multi ethnic crowd. Cover the skies with polluted smog, wipe America clean with a trio of nuclear bombs and install an oppressive, all powerful technocratic government in place of the robots. You have now, in your mind’s eye, a graphical representation of Street.

Street is cyberpunk. It is semi-oriental, set in the future, powered by fantastic technology, it is gritty and dirty and all the things you’d imagine cyberpunk to be. But what is cyberpunk, really? I cannot be sure – I am not, after all, a hardcore sci-fi fan. I sat through all three Matrix movies, I watched Ghost In The Shell, and I followed Serial Experiments Lain for a time. I spent 2 or so hours looking up the term on Wikipedia (which provided me with a good explanation, and then led me to other things like the fantastic Appleseed movie that I’d now have to buy) and I also did the necessary review checking on Amazon for William Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy. But let’s be honest: I am not familiar with cyberpunk. If you’re a hardcore sci-fi fan and you find cyberpunk cliches and/or overused elements in your reading of Street (that I’ve neglected to mention) feel free to drop me a message. I’m likely to miss some of them.

Street is the story of Gina, a telepath for hire. She is given a job that she can’t refuse by a man named Bomber, briefed by a woman named Jezebel, and taken off to spy on a man named Gabriel. Things go horribly wrong soon after. What follows is fast paced and extremely fun: Gina and Bomber (and whole host of other characters that are sooner or later killed, shot, or blown to bits) are on the run, and run they do, never stopping, resting only for the space of chapters before some unforeseen hunter or clue sends them running again. You’ll never know what’ll happen next, and telling you some of the things that will happen in this review would be just spoiling the fun.

Gina is a believable, likable main character. Bomber too, though his past is an enigma, and remains one of the more captivating storylines in Street. The author, Ryan Span, has done a good job with his cast: Rat, and to a lesser degree Jock (hackers – you were expecting some weren’t you?) are particularly well defined people; you understand their suffering and their place in the Hacker hierarchy. The villain, however – Gabriel – is hard to understand. He is kind, and he is gentle; he makes Gina fall in love with him in a very short time. But he also sends men to kill them, he rats them out to the oppressive government, and he owns vast amounts of resources that he uses for nefarious, if yet unexplained means. The dynamics between the characters in Street mostly work, but they unravel when it comes to interaction between Gabriel and Gina. Gina falls in love with Gabriel, though her attraction is nothing more than physical and perhaps mental pleasure. In the first book, Empathy, we know so little of Gabriel that he becomes a caricature. We do not understand his motivations, his power, or his past, and this means that he doesn’t seem as dangerous or a scary as the author would want him to be.

Street sometimes threads the line between pop-culture reference and unoriginality. The drug Gina uses to tap into her telepathic ability is called Spice, a blatant reference to the sci-fi epic Dune. This was a risky move to make, partly because Spice had similar qualities (prescience, not telepathy) and was a major plot element in the Dune novels. And then there is Virtual Reality, similar to the virtual world of the Matrix, but functioning as the Internet in Street’s fictional world. Both these elements aren’t in any way original, but I’m inclined to think that the author included them to have a little fun through established sci-fi conventions. It’s the wry comment Rat makes in one episode that gives it away: after spending the whole of one airship spaced out in a VR cubicle, Gina complains to Rat and Rat replies "Yeah. VR’s like that.", which made me laugh. Street was written by an author who understood Internet addiction, all right.

Ryan A. Span has crafted a well written, brilliantly paced story of adventure, mystery and explosive action. It’s not perfect, for sure, but any and all flaws are the kind you consider only after you’ve finished reading the story, perhaps with an "if only he . . . " musing attached. Street is good. It is worth your time. Read it; you won’t be disappointed.

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