Reviewer: Jake Beal

Author: Elizabeth Bear

Published: 2005

Reviewed: 2009-06-22

Publisher: Bantam Books (Random House)

I've never before read a cyberpunk novel in which all the characters
were middle-aged. You know what? I liked it. Too many times it's
all hot and deadly young street samurai ready to carve their way to
glory like gunslingers in Ye Olde West. Instead, Ms. Bear has crafted
a world with all the urban decay, environmental drag, deadly
gun-toting ronin and corporate treachery that cyberpunk fans know and
love, and also a depth and humanity that many are lacking.

It shows in the storytelling, and the way the people act, talk, and
make decisions. The characters are mature adults. They don't have
angst, they have pain and coping. They conspire, compromise their
morals and give up dearly held plans because, well, they realize that
the situation has changed and the old plan doesn't make sense any more.

There's a bittersweet love story tangled up in compromises,
pragmatism, and the odd psyches that make every real relationship
bizarre. The vicious bastard that's pulling everybody's strings is a
tired old patriot truly working his heart out for his country and the
main characters agree with him even as they loathe him and conspire
against him. A fallen gang lord talks to the cat his friend asked him
to care for, trying to figure out what he wants to do with his life
next. It's not a complicated story at all, but it's baroque with the
life that Ms. Bear has infused into her characters.

Also, I really like the fact that Canada's become a vicious
militaristic power through a believable future history, and that two
of the main characters are Quebecois and speak snatches of French that
aren't always translated. You can pick up enough without knowing it
all, and I don't begrudge them their privacy.

Give yourself a little time to ease into it, and to let Ms. Bear get
off the starting line. Twenty pages in, I was ready to can it as a
fluff piece that would follow either the "the real and virtual worlds
mix!" or "AI takes over the world!" cliches. Fifty pages in, I
realized it wasn't going to be quite so simple, and by halfway through
I was entranced by the drama and couldn't put it down. Then it ended!
And I have to wait for the sequel! At least she ended in a
reasonable way, finding a resting place without trying to tie up all
the loose ends or creating an artificial cliffhanger.

To pick a couple nits: the little Tom Clancy style datelines bugged
me, and Ms. Bear relies on third-person omniscient more heavily than I
would like. I think this is largely just her inexperience as an
author, and with more time and good editors, she may come to write
very good prose.

I have to congratulate Ms. Bear not only on writing a good novel, but
on the fact that it's her first novel as well. I didn't want to
mention that earlier because you don't need to know it's her first
attempt to be willing to read it. I think, however, that this is a
good author to watch.

My final judgment: if you like cyberpunk and/or hard sci-fi, and
you're more interested in the characters than in the technology or the
drama, you should read "Hammered". Don't expect it to take off like a
rocket, but relax, settle in, and prepare for some very good