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Hammerjack
      Prodigal
Marc D. Giller
      Marc D. Giller
Bantam Spectra, 449 pages
      Bantam Spectra, 404 pages

Hammerjack
Prodigal
Marc D. Giller
Marc D. Giller wrote his first science-fiction novel at the tender age of sixteen, with the certainty of fame and riches before him. When that plan didn't work out he went to college instead, earning a bachelor of science degree in journalism from Texas A&M University. Over the years, he has worked as a photographer, producer, computer trainer, and even had a one-night stint as a television news reporter. For the last several years, he has been manager of information systems for a Tampa law firm. He makes his home in the Tampa Bay area of Florida, where he lives with his wife, two children and a furry golden retriever. Hammerjack and Prodigal are his first published novels.

Marc D. Giller Website
Author Q&A from Bantam
Read an excerpt of Hammerjack
Read an excerpt of Prodigal

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Victoria Strauss

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In the high-tech future of Marc D. Giller's Hammerjack, the Earth is ruled by the super-corporations of the Collective, successor to the sovereign nations of the old world order, which collapsed more than a century earlier in a storm of terrorism and environmental crisis. The Collective also dominates the infosphere, known as the Axis, where semi-sentient security crawlers guard corporate cyber-citadels against the hackers called hammerjacks, who steal corporate secrets and sell them to the highest bidder. Outside the zones controlled by the Collective, the world is a dangerous, anarchic free-for-all of mobsters, drug dealers, flesh peddlers, and street cults, where anything, from sex slaves to illegal tech, can be had for a price. Here also lurks the Collective's nemesis, the shadowy group known as the Inru, whose fanatically anti-tech philosophy has as its central goal not just the destruction of modern technology, but the Ascension of humankind to a higher plane of consciousness. Only thus, the Inru believes, can human beings maintain their superiority to the rising intelligence of machines.

Cray Alden is a former hammerjack now working as a corporate spook, hunting down the hackers who were once his colleagues, and defending the corporate info-empires that were once his prey. When a dangerous mission goes awry and he is forced to accept another, he finds himself in the employ of the Assembly, the secretive and immensely powerful group that runs the Collective. He learns that an all but mythical science called bionucleics has finally succeeded in accomplishing something long thought impossible: the creation of a synthetic intelligence. But the intelligence, known as Lyssa, has gone rogue -- hijacking the security systems of the building in which she is housed, killing everyone inside. The Assembly fears that the Inru has somehow corrupted Lyssa, and tasks Cray to discover whether this is so. Trying to find answers, Cray lands in the middle of a secret war between the Inru and the Collective. Betrayed by Avalon, the almost superhuman female assassin assigned to guard him, and poisoned by an unknown technology that's changing his body and mind in terrifying ways, Cray's only hope may be an alliance with his greatest enemy, the legendary hammerjack Heretic -- once a member of the Inru, now working against both the Inru and the Collective.

The background to Marc D. Giller's entertaining tale of intrigue and betrayal is cyberpunk-standard, familiar to any fan of the genre: the all-powerful corporations, the gritty street culture, the biologically and technologically enhanced post-humans, the assorted high-tech gadgetry, the rebel geniuses who wield cyber-skills like sorcery. But Giller writes with a fluid cinematic flair that makes his vision of the high-tech future very vivid, and he adds enough original elements, such as the political backstory of the Collective's takeover of world governance, to keep Matrix comparisons at bay. The pace is fast, the stakes high, the extended action sequences furious and very well-written. If the characters aren't terribly deep, and the plot turns don't always bear close scrutiny, there's more than suspense enough to keep the reader glued.

The sequel, Prodigal, opens soon after the conclusion of Hammerjack. Ex-hammerjack Lea Prism is now a corporate spook. Like her former lover Cray Alden (whom the world believes dead; only Lea knows the bizarre nature of his survival), she hunts the Collective's enemies -- mainly, the last remaining vestiges of the shattered Inru. On a mission to root out an Inru stronghold in the desolate radiation zone of Chernobyl (re-devastated a century earlier by terrorists), Lea discovers a high-tech lab setup centered on six immersion tanks, whose occupants are mindlinked in some sort of biological network. A ferocious battle with Inru forces follows, led by Lea's nemesis, the assassin Avalon, and the lab is destroyed. But troubling questions remain. Could the Inru, far from being beaten, have been on the verge of a breakthrough in their search for Ascension? Was the Chernobyl lab the only one?

Meanwhile, the first salvage expedition to Mars in the wake of the deadly Mons plague, which ten years earlier wiped out the Martian colonies, makes a bizarre discovery: six cryonic chambers holding the last survivors of the feared Solar Expeditionary Force -- including the SEF's notorious leader, Colonel Martin Thanis, responsible for atrocities against the colonists during the panic of the plague. Nathan Straker, the ship's Executive Officer, fears the spread of the Mons virus, but the Captain disregards his advice and brings the cryochambers aboard. It soon becomes apparent that not only are the SEF officers infected, their consciousnesses are somehow linked, even in cryosleep -- not unlike the lab setup Lea found at Chernobyl. Is there a connection? Is the Inru involved? When an onboard traitor brings the SEF officers out of stasis, Nathan manages to escape and return to Earth, where he and Lea become unlikely allies. Like Cray before them, their last hope may lie in a pact with a deadly enemy.

Prodigal takes the reader to new and exotic locales: Mars, a deep-space cargo hauler, the sleazy subcultures of the unincorporated zones. We learn a bit more about the events that brought the Collective to power, and a lot more about the tragedy on Mars, adding depth to Giller's scenario. The novel unfolds in tense parallel narratives, as Lea chases Avalon and the Inru, and Nathan confronts the shipboard traitor; it takes a bit of contrivance to link these storylines up, but not so much as to seriously strain belief. The denouement pulls out all the stops, and also, possibly, lays the foundation for a third book in the series.

Giller employs the same fast-paced, cinematic style, but the extended action sequences (in some cases unduly extended -- Lea's mission to Chernobyl, for instance, runs more than 50 pages) are not as well-integrated as they were in the previous novel. They're more like the set-piece fight scenes in martial arts movies where the plot disappears for ten minutes while the protagonists kick the crap out of each other. No doubt many readers will relish this, but others, like me, will find their attention wandering. Also disappointing: except for the Inru and their dream of Ascension, the intriguing questions left unanswered at the end of Hammerjack are not taken up in the sequel -- including Lyssa and the many mysteries of her existence. Lyssa is present in Prodigal, but mainly as a plot device. Still, this is a solid followup to a promising debut, and the two novels together are a welcome addition to the cyberpunk subgenre.

Copyright © 2007 Victoria Strauss

Victoria Strauss is a novelist, and a lifelong reader of fantasy and science fiction. Her most recent fantasy novel, The Awakened City, is available from HarperCollins Eos. For more information, visit her website.


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