Cyberpunk is a risky genre to write. On one hand, there is a strange, almost universally cultish feel to it that anyone and everyone appreciates. Even folks who normally do not like science fiction. We can see examples of this in the Ghost in the Shell universe, The Matrix, Bladerunner, its original story Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and William Gibson’s Neuromancer. And yes, the derivative but thrilling Shadowrun series of games and books.

Yet at the same time, the genre gets old fast. The nouveau ideas of these earlier works are like drugs to which we build a swift tolerance. Creativity is exhausting in its demands for uniqueness. Yet with K. Ceres Wright’s novel Cog, we’re reminded that the cyberpunk genre is still a frontier with plenty to explore.

Cog is a tale about “those on high rendered low” in a game of corporate espionage. Geren Ryder is the owner and operator of American Hologram (AmHo). Not long after acknowledging a new partner, Geren falls into a coma and his son, Wills Ryder, absconds with $50 billion.

With faith in the company’s direction shaken, head of IT Chris Kappert visits Geren’s daughter Nicholle, offering her the position of CEO. Nicholle reluctantly agrees to the responsibility, fearing a repeat of her past as a recovered addict. But not long after, she’s framed for embezzling another $20 billion. On the lam with Chris, she races to find answers before a statute would see her comatose father euthanized.

Writing fiction is quite a bit like juggling, as the tossed objects include character development, plot, pacing and a unique voice. But speculative fiction authors deal with the added challenges of world-building and the associated lore. Theirs is a greater challenge, performed before an audience who is often already quite jaded to the act.

Ceres gets most of the performance right however. Her pace is strong, her world filled with intrigue and familiar abuses of the law between Virginia, DC and Maryland. She didn’t shy from discussing the technologies in a functional way, and did so quite well. But best of all are her characters, carefully devised and explored. This is especially true of Nicholle, who is forced to confront her shady past and the temptations of being a recovered addict.

The novel isn’t without weaknesses however. Time could have been invested explaining the nuts and bolts of how the Ryder siblings were framed, as well as fully fleshing out the ending. Without time to go deeper, the plot suffers from predictability. Likewise, I feel like some of the diving between reality and the Virtual Reality was a touch hard to follow. Neuromancer did the same thing however, a stylish choice meant to challenge our acceptance of reality.

While imperfect, cyberpunk fans can look forward to their fix with Cog. Hopefully, that rush will last until Bladerunner 2049.

James Fadeley photo.

About James Fadeley

James is a short story author and novelist who spends way too much time playing video games. His first novel, The Gift of Hadrborg is based on The Banner Saga universe. If you think yourself insane, he can be followed on Twitter @JamesFadeley.