Completed 11/6/2016 Reviewed 11/9/2016
“Trouble” is the username of India Carliss, a former hacker who gave up her underground life traversing the net to be a network admin for an artist’s colony when hacking became criminalized. She left everything behind, including her friends and girlfriend. Three years later, someone is causing trouble in the net using her username, implicating her in illegal activity. Trouble and her ex go on a quest to find the culprit uncovering a much more sinister plot.
I’m not a fan of cyberpunk, but this book won a Lambda Literary Award, and Melissa Scott has won more Lammies than any other author. So I thought I’d give it a try. Unfortunately, it just reinforced my dislike of cyberpunk.
The story takes place in both the virtual world, written in italics, and the real world, written in normal font. At first I thought I’d like this. The imagery of the virtual world is reminiscent of movies like Tron, with lots of bizarre colors and shapes representing networks, data, and bulletin boards. Yes, this book is over twenty years old, so the cyber bulletin board phenomenon is still at its peak. After a while, though, it felt pretty simplistic and hackneyed. Worst of all, reading italics for too long put a strain on my eyes.
The one thing I have to give this book props on is the prose. In general, it’s quite good. It was easy reading from that perspective. Where the book lacks is in the plot. There isn’t too much of one. The book can be divided into two halves, the first half being Trouble and her ex, Cerise, individually fretting about Trouble getting into trouble, and the second half, Trouble and Cerise fretting together about Trouble getting into trouble. Okay, there’s a little more than that. They take a journey to a town that’s both virtual and real to find the non-Trouble. They meet some mildly interesting characters along the way. But it mostly felt like nothing really happened, and most of the dialogue is rehashing the plot to that point.
I think the book was missing tension, particularly tension between Cerise and Trouble. You would think that the relationship between the two women would be fraught with tension since Trouble just walked out on Cerise three years earlier with nary a word. But Cerise was too forgiving for me and their working together was much too easy. There’s some mild sexual tension, but even that seems unrealistic by normal standards of human emotions. Life’s messy, but little in the interaction between these two was messy.
I give this book two out of five stars. It just didn’t do anything for me. Finishing the book became a mechanical process. I really didn’t care about Trouble or her friends, or her enemies.