cover image Hardwired


Walter Jon Williams. Tor Books, $15.95 (343pp) ISBN 978-0-312-93303-6

After his thoughtful, elegant novel Knight Moves, Williams wrenchingly shifts gears for this heavy-metal adventure. It is set with acknowledgement in Roger Zelazny's Damnation Alley, when corporate Orbitals control what's left of a postwar America, now balkanized and armed to the teeth. Ex-fighter pilot Cowboy, ""hardwired'' via skull sockets directly to his lethal electronic hardware, teams up with Sarah, an equally cyborized gun-for-hire, to make a last stab at independence from the rapacious Orbitals. The story, though, is buried under an elaborate techno-punk style of the sort William Gibson popularized in Neuromancer. In both cases, it is a pose, a baroque nostalgia for Hemingway and film noir; it only plays at nihilism, terror and despair. The best effect is Williams's future version of a brain-scrambled vet: a dead buddy of Cowboy's whose scattered bits and pieces of computer memory now constitute a ragged semblance of a man. Such nuggets are hard to find amid the amplified, rock-'n-roll prose. (June 16)