It’s dangerous to get good at something, particularly as a writer, because people will often freak out if you don’t keep doing the exact same thing for which you’re known. At the same time, people will complain if you keep doing the same thing and say it’s all you can do. That’s why I love to see a writer step outside what they already have down and do something new, especially when they do it well. That’s exactly what we have in Konrath’s new book The Memory Hunter.
We know Konrath can do wildly absurd from books such as Atmospheres, Thunderbird, and Rumored to Exist, just as we know he can do soulful realism after reading Summer Rain. Cyberpunk sci-fi mixed with gritty detective noir is something new, though:
Bishop pulled out the telescoping side braces from the gun, to clamp the ocular nerve scanner to the man’s head. While he prepared the scanner, he started reading the Rights and Responsibilities to Sanford, a 768-word speech he long ago memorized and could rattle off in his sleep. He glanced down to see the status light on the Deck, and when he looked back up, a pulsed energy beam from a subcompact plasma blaster flashed past his head, disintegrating a wall of travel brochures behind him. Sanford dropped the gun, knocked out of his hand from the sudden jolt of the blast, and jumped out of his chair, lunging for the back door.
Christ, I hate runners, Bishop thought. He shoved the scanner back in his Rig bag, and hurtled over the desk, slamming into the heavy computer terminal with his shoulder and scattering the stack of papers and donuts all over the office floor. He struggled to regain his footing on the other side of the table, and grabbed the pistol, a little plastic thing that wasn’t much more than a battery with a snub-nosed barrel and trigger. When he got to the door, he saw Sanford lumbering down the cinderblock-walled hallway, toward the stairs.
In The Memory Hunter, the world is a recent alternate history where nuclear war did happen, the Japanese corporations did end up taking over, and human beings are little more than the data on their brain implants. The role they play corresponds to the class of brain implant they can afford, and many reach too high by financing. Then they can’t make the payments and their data is repossessed by repo agents like the main character, Bishop, turning them into helpless children…presuming the spreading implant degradation disease IDES doesn’t get them first and do something worse.
Bishop is far from happy with the situation, but there’s only so much he can do. Then he’s offered a sketchy and dangerous repo from a corporation he hates more than most, one even sketchier and more dangerous than the repo itself. He’s quickly in over his head. You’ll have to read to find out what happens after that. I don’t want to give the whole book away.
Konrath works in some entertaining absurdity in this one in a much more understated way than his wilder works:
Down a short hallway, a door opened into a large chamber, a master bedroom. All the furniture sat askew, like the rest of the house, the queen-sized bed jerked away from the frame, the lamp shades at extreme angles on their posts, throwing a strange cast of light across the shadows of the room. He spied the same kind of genetic research books on the nightstand, not exactly light bedtime reading, but maybe it was to a research doctor. Bishop lifted the corner of the mattress, and saw something that made his stomach turn: Zooey porn.
The world had few remaining sexual taboos — anyone with free time and a few bucks could easily hop on The Net and find a willing cyber-partner. It was more than socially acceptable to find and impregnate a woman without even knowing her first name, thanks to the government-funded adoption program that encouraged women to produce dozens of viable fetuses a year. But the Zooeys crossed the line. After genetic engineering and cloning caught on, it became commonplace for scientists to cross two species with each other. It started with pets: house cat-sized lions, miniature polar bears, toddler-sized horses, hamster-sized elephants, dog-sized hamsters. After human cloning became a real thing, the military started experimenting with adding animal traits to people: night vision eyes, a dog’s sense of smell, athletic performance enhancement with the muscle density and distribution of a cheetah for marathon runners. That led to Zooeys.
Back before the war, there were people that called themselves Furries. They used to dress up in costumes like anthropomorphic animals, comic book characters and fantasy novel creatures, and then go to convention centers and screw each other in fur suits. Once the technology became available, Furries gave up on the foam suits and rubber masks and started getting genetic-level procedures done on themselves: turning their skin into fur, adding horns and tails, fox snouts and elephant trunks. And it became a big thing to hook up with anthropomorphic, genetically-modified human hybrid creatures.
However, the core is an engaging noir story in a vivid cyberpunk landscape. I was reminded just a bit (in a good way) of works like Blade Runner and The Shockwave Rider. This may not be the sort of thing Konrath has made his name at, but The Memory Hunter makes it clear that he easily could. I certainly enjoyed reading.