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Lisa Mason
Avon EOS Books, 262 pages

Lisa Mason
Lisa Mason practiced law in San Francisco before turning to a full-time career as a writer. Her novels include Summer of Love, Arachne, Cyberweb, and The Golden Nineties. She lives in Sausalito, California.

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A review by Thomas Myer

Lisa Mason's latest cyberpunk thriller is a bouillabaisse of overeager "Big Brother" machinations, needlessly desperate characters, and, strangely enough, in a fluid technological society, a class system as rigid and defined as a stained glass window.

Carly Nolan is a former telespace attorney whose license to practice is revoked by her law firm after she freaks out and delays court proceedings by seven seconds. On top of that, Data Control, an uber-corporation with meathooks in all parts of society's anatomy, kicks her out of public telespace. Carly is forced to live without access to public information or money. She must live like a rat, stealing sustenance from food recyclers and hijacking what passes for cash machines in a robot-infested world.

We also meet Pr. Spinner, an AI psychoanalyst (and Carly's nemesis in Arachne, the predecessor of this novel) that is also on the run from the law. Spinner's motivations are somewhat murky -- it is the being that first made contact with the Arachne in Carly's telelink, and although the AI fears the spider, is drawn to it.

And what is the Arachne? In Lisa Mason's words, it is an archetype -- a spontaneous de novo creation springing from the primordial mess of the human meta-program. It is a spider in form because spiders embody two conflicting ideals: hunter, therefore a destroyer; and builder, therefore a creator.

It seems that the powers-that-be (and there are plenty of them, all tangled together in their own web of collusion) fear the presence of this vermin, and want it isolated (at the very least) or outright destroyed.

And, of course, there are other threats: a band of technology-shunning neo-tribal savages, roaming the streets and sewers of San Francisco, and the Silicon Supremacists, who want to relegate public telespace to the septic tank of memory.

For all the energy of the plot and the quirkiness of the characters, this novel contains too many shortcomings in its back-story to keep my total attention.

Readers knowledgeable with current cyberspace technology will be irritated by this book. Mason's terminology and ideas are either misbegotten or plain barren. Questions keep popping into my mind: Why mainframes? What happened to client-server technology? Why do the humans feel threatened by software? I mean, spiders are pretty freaky, but software can't affect biological life-forms (unless, of course, the software is aiming a gun at your head).

After the niggling questions comes the realization that some of the larger pieces don't fit together either. In many scenes, the AI characters outnumber the humans, and a single huge corporation seems to control salient choke points in society. However, San Francisco's infrastructure (roads, buildings, bridges, tunnels) is in such disrepair that you have to wonder about the priorities of all the technology mongers. Data Control can keep people from entering what passes for cyberspace, yet there isn't sufficient brainpower, manpower, and robot power to round up all the neo-luddite freaks and force them to assimilate.

And what about those neo-luddites? How, in a society so ingrained with gratuitous high-tech, could there exist such a well-established subculture of illiterate roving savages? This seems like a contemporary bad joke finding overexcited expression, not a thoughtful commentary, on the dangers of extreme technology.

In my opinion, Gibson's Low-Teks (in "Johnny Mnemonic") are more realistic, Stephenson's near-future societies are richer and deeper, and Severna Park's class struggles stick to your ribs better. Lisa Mason fails to extrapolate well, and in my opinion, this is deadly for a science fiction career.

Copyright © 1998 Thomas Myer

Thomas Myer is a writer and editor. He works for Cisco Systems, Inc.

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