Night, Rain, and Neon edited by Michael Cobley
(NewCon Press, 2022)
Reviewed by Graham Andrews
Night, Rain, and Neon is an anthology of original cyberpunk stories, issued on 1st July 2022 to commemorate the first publication of William Gibson’s Neuromancer, the novel that defined, if not created, a whole new sub-genre of science fiction. From Michael Cobley’s Introduction: “Cyberpunk’s core function is about how the root of Humanity’s being adapts when our perceptions are retooled by technology. What happens when the edge of tech gets under your skin? What happens when the hottest and edgiest of tech become the playthings of the rich and powerful? Some guru once said that the worst of all human depravities isn’t doing bad things but making good people do bad things. How do we deal with the dangers and consequences if unchained power uses tech to turn people into weapons?”
Rough calculation: 18 stories into 1,000 words of book review = 55 words per story (not counting extraneous material). Poetry anthologies usually include an Index of First Lines. I could follow that example with key paragraphs from key stories (IMO), starting with: “Gun was the wrong word, thought Itsay. The weapon was a focused microwave emitter which would render a suspect comatose. The effects were often permanently debilitating, resulting in loss of memory, cognitive function and mood swings. Police unions argued it was better than being shot and the courts agreed.” (Stewart Hotston: ‘Hello, Goodbye’)
‘Four Green Fields, Fair’, by Ian McDonald, proves that cyberpunk doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom: “From the High King’s high floor Ciara has, on clear, bright days, seen the Ireland’s Eye, out there rising from beyond the eastern horizon, the ten-kilometre-tall tower of glass from which the Green Watch keeps endless vigilance for The Threat. This is not a clear day.” Ditto Callum McSorley: “I step off the curb in Sauchiehall Street, and cross the road into Temple Street, Kowloon. A yella ‘X’ marks the x-over cafés. I slip into a crampt wee place, its plain tables and chairs overlaid with AR visuals of a cha chaan teng.” (‘Forever in Scotland’) Justina Robson aussi: “Connections were being cut with the frenzied speed of that was really hacking, hacking desperately at bonds and then she was seen and she saw—That she was back at the edge of the Garden of Incomparable Daisies, wearing her best friend’s body, feeling the bizarre sensation of him from the inside, like a suit too big and strangely weighted to fit.” (‘A Game of Clones’)
‘Assets’, by Keith Brooke and the late-lamented Eric Brown (25 May 1960 to 21 March 2023) is the stand-out story for me. “I squirt myself over to my asset in Rome. I awaken, the resuscitation software pumping life into the body. In a minute I feel human again. New country. New city. New body… I walk the Via del Corso. Aware of lustful male glances. It’s good to be in possession of a female somaform again… No longer content with just men or women, I bought children—and even babes in arms just to thrill again at the sense of pure helplessness. Some territories prohibit this, but laws are made for people like me to bend, and break.” A.E. van Vogt’s Gilbert Gosseyn, from the Null-A novels, gone far over to the Dark Side.
Body-chopping horror is provided by Jon Courtenay Grimwood, in ‘The Thirteenth Clone of Casamir Ivanovitch’: “Outside in the real world, assuming it was real and how would I tell, Mitsubishi hovers slid through [tears in?] neon slicked rain/Standing beside the Matsui tank, set into the rotting back of the warehouse, [TM] indicated his two skinless biker sidekicks as they opened their metal case, which turned out to contain laser scalpels, a fold-out operating table and an interesting collection of neoprene straps.”
T.R. Napper also evokes the spirit of classic cyberpunk, while adding his own touch of contemporary night-rain-neon class: “For the official record, I guess I’m Toshiro Sanada. But hell, I can’t remember the last time someone called me Toshi/ When I walked outside, the rain had stopped. Clouds rushed above, over slick dark streets, over the battered chain link fences, the shadowed lanes. The neon signs of the Goruden-Mairu blazed through it all, the bleak landscape of my home. I felt a terrible pressure rising in my chest…and there I was in the middle of the street, hands on my knees, my screams echoing over concrete ravines.” (‘The Gorunden-Mairu Job’)
There isn’t a dud story in the book, although I’d rate some of them either Bs or Cs—don’t ask me, I won’t tell. The general standard of writing is high, a virtue exemplified by the above quotations. A tip of my VR hat goes to these remaining authors: Al Robertson, Louise Casey, Jeremy Szal, Danie Ware, Tim Maughan, Gavin Smith, Simon Morden, DA Xialin Spires, Corey J White, and Joseph Elliot-Coleman. We are told that editor Michael Cobley has had his blood upgraded, his Kodak-Sinclair eyes recalibrated, his sub-dermal implants refurbished, etc.—and, even more amazingly—that NRN is his very first anthology commission!
Night, Rain, and Neon might be seen as an elegiac tribute to the way the future was in the 1980s-type cyberpunk science fiction that I, for one, have always found it something of a slog to re-read. Or re-watch, as with Johnny Mnemonic, based upon the 1986 short story and screenplay by William Gibson, which hadn’t even aged well at the time it was made (1995). But that was then, this is now, and these stories might well have taught me the error of my ways. As Cobley so cogently puts it: “All the monstrous growths that Gibson, [Bruce] Sterling, [John] Shirley and others perceived nearly four decades ago are now entirely visible, encrusting all the horizons of our world, branching off sub-tentacles of itself to infiltrate or otherwise ensnare anything that might provide a revenue stream. Cyberpunk fiction has never been more relevant.”