Tuesday, 26 September 2000

Richard Kadrey: Metrophage (1988)

Edition: Gollancz, 1988
Review number: 627

The problem with cyberpunk as a subgenre of science fiction is that there were too few top class writers involved. Apart from William Gibson and Bruce Sterling (and perhaps K.W. Jeter), it would be hard now to name another cyberpunk writer from its heyday, the mid eighties. The influence of the genre - which is considerable - is really the influence of Gibson and Sterling, together with that of the film Bladerunner.

Kadrey's first novel is one of the forgotten cyberpunk also-rans. It is told from the point of view of a drug dealer in decaying Los Angeles, who gets caught up in the events which surround an epidemic of a new virus rather like leprosy which is decimating the city. There are naturally clear parallels with the AIDS scare, at its height at the time of writing, but Kadrey doesn't really have anything of interest to say about contemporary events, something which prevents his novel being first class.

Like many first novels, Metrophage wears its influences on its sleeve, and it is actually quite interesting to catalogue them as you read it. The principal immediate influence is of course William Gibson, and the earlier writers who helped form Gibson are many of them clearly direct influences as well, from William S. Burroughs to Raymond Chandler. The whole coverage of AIDS and especially suspicions that it originated in a laboratory is the one thing without which the novel could not have been written, though earlier plague themed science fiction such as The Andromeda Strain probably plays a part.

Metrophage is not a great novel, but (for the unsqueamish) it is an enjoyable read.

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