Night, Rain, And Neon: All New Cyberpunk Stories edited by Michael Cobley (book review).

‘Night, Rain, And Neon’ is a collection of all new cyberpunk stories from Newcon Press with an Oxford comma in the title, edited by Michael Cobley who wrote the ‘Humanity’s Fire’ space opera trilogy which I enjoyed years ago. It’s a tribute to ‘Neuromancer’ by William Gibson which came out in 1984. So cyberpunk has been around for a while now and presumably develops as new tech comes along, though the writers are not, of course, limited by reality.

We haven’t yet managed to jack ourselves into the Internet and ride the ether or download our consciousness into new bodies but I look forward to it. Meanwhile, the human problems such facilities might give rise to are explored in the following stories.

In ‘Hello, Goodbye’ by Stewart Hotston, Itsay goes to A&E where he gets VIP treatment because his company has paid for it. He’s infected with a virus that attacks both biometrics and flesh but he has a back-up plan. Things don’t turn out as expected. I liked the ruthlessness of this one.

Ian McDonald’s ‘Four Green Fields’ has Ireland defended by fifty metre high super-robots, run by highly skilled operators. They’re a media sensation, an advertiser’s dream and the best weapon against The Threat. That’s revealed at the end and is particularly ironic for Ireland.

‘All The Precious Years’ Al Robertson has Laurent in various hi-tech disguises investigating a Transport Authority with an unusually high number of accidents, especially with buses. Another bleak future where poor humans don’t count for much but Laurent loves his old mum.

So does Dana in ‘Forever In Scotland’ by Callum McSorley. He has to take on a job for a long-lived lady in Kowloon because he’s in debt to Mulligan and can’t pay. They could hurt his Ma. Dana is poor now but is a descendant of the great Petrel Maxwell with slim ties to that clan which might be useful. As ever in these devious cyberpunk futures, all is not what it seems. This was good enough that the present tense narration didn’t phase me and I liked the slightly amended language. The letter ‘g’ at the end of words is nearly extinct now, anyway.

There are more wealthy bad people in ‘Assets’ by Keith Brooke and Eric Brown. Ms Dakane, a rich bitch, squirts herself to Rome and wakes up in the body of a beautiful Somalian girl who has sold it to get money for her family. But Dakane wants to experience a different body altogether and the cost doesn’t matter. Complications ensue when she meets a man who knew the Somalian girl back in her native village. Many short stories end with a twist and I saw one coming, but not the one that did. Neat.

John’s the sad loser in the sales department of Inspiration PLC and Brian is the popular, successful guy everyone loves. ‘The Still Small Voice’ by Louise Carey follows John’s day. Drugged with pick-me-ups by his implant to get going, too broke to afford the tube, told off for being late. Life is hard for John. Apart from the tech, an everyday tale of modern bachelor misery in big corporation land but there’s more to it than meets the eye. Oh, those implants! This works really well.

In ‘Mindstrings’ by Jeremy Sal, there’s a new tech on Mars outpost called Lynx, all the rage in clubs, that lets you jack into a psychedelic, surreal cyberspace and enjoy ‘a hivemind embrace of warmth and vibrancy’. It’s very addictive. I liked the story but I’m not sure everyone yearns for warm, fluffy togetherness and loss of individuality, though doubtless many do.

‘We Appreciate Power’ by Gavin Smith opens like a James Bond film with a spectacular kidnapping by a lone operative using high speed vehicles and super-technology. It’s another bleak future where the rich do what they like, with double-crosses fit for film noir. A clever, fast-paced story and the hero has as many scruples as anyone could in such a setting. The kid he naps is something new in the world.

Maké is a hi-tech professional hitman in ‘Accumulated Damage’ by Simon Morden and his target today is a new cult that’s sprung up in the lower levels of society. Some of its followers have already been whacked ‘for interfering in the usual corporate model of consume and obey, with their free stuff and emancipation proclamations’. Has Maké met his match? I enjoyed the black humour of this piece.

‘Elijah Of The 1000 Faces’ by Gary Gibson is a cyberpunk prison yarn. In a real prison, you’re stuck inside but here you can use proxy bodies outside to investigate when someone tries to kill you. Elijah Waites does just that, with the aid of Lorenz, the bad guy who runs illegal activity inside, like dirty Harry Grouty in ‘Porridge’. When you’re ‘wearing a skin’ your enemies can kill the body but not you. A well-handled tale of criminal double-crossing and our hero had a vision for the future. Whether the end justified his means is a moot point.

‘Terms And Conditions’ by Joseph Elliott-Coleman is set in Croydon, to which Ursula Octavia Wannamaker has returned with her comrades Saoirse and Jean-Paul to see her father. They’ve been in France fighting Neo-Nazis, which earns them respect from everyone. Ursula wants reconciliation with her family and to check they’re okay. This bleak, hi-tech, anarchic future has some redeeming features and an original punishment for the worst war criminals. Our object all sublime, we shall achieve in time.

‘The Goruden-Mairu Job’ by T.R. Napper is a film noir tale updated to the cyberpunk era. Little Sanada works for Suzy the Razor Scintilla who runs The Moon Under Water bar on the seedy outskirts of Tokyo. She’s fallen out with the local crime kingpin, Okada. The story is told in alternate memory segments, with Little Sanada being supervised by police officer Lieutenant Sato. Memories can be edited in this Phil Dickian future but there’s a human interest at the heart of this fast paced crime caper.

I grew up with pens and paper and got a calculator the size of a house brick in my last year at school, long, long ago, so I’m not techy. When a modern gadget’s sales spiel says it’s ‘intuitive,’ I know I’ll need the instruction manual. I took this one for review partly to see if an old codger like me would be able to follow the stories and I could, mostly.

The writers make it relatively easy for an average SF reader to see what’s going on. Whether that would apply to a general reader, an Agatha Christie fan, for instance, who knows? At any rate, ‘Night, Rain, And Neon’ is three hundred pages of entertaining, thought-provoking cyberpunk that will give many hours of pleasure and introduce you to new writers you may not otherwise have known. That’s the joy of anthologies. Another fine collection from Newcon Press. Recommended.

Eamonn Murphy

June 2022

(pub: NewCon Press, 2022. 320 page small enlarged paperback. Price: £12.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-91495-323-1. E-book: Price: £ 4.99 (UK). ASIN: BOB1BC6JNH)

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Eamonn Murphy

Eamonn Murphy reviews books for sfcrowsnest and writes short stories for small press magazines. His works are available on Amazon and on Kindle Unlimited.

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