23rd June 2014

Bald New World by Peter Tieryas Liu

This cypberpunk offering from Peter Tieryas Liu takes us into a near-future world in which something (unspecified) has caused everyone to lose all their body hair. I found myself wondering whether such an event would actually lead to the kind of societal upheaval depicted here, but was prepared to suspend my disbelief. The author does a good job of creating this new world order and new society, with innovative technologies, particularly in transport, communication and gaming. It is this aspect that I feel entitles me to label this book ‘cyberpunk’, although such labels are not always useful or informative. I was vaguely aware of a certain dissonance between the upheaval through which the world had apparently passed, including (as is mentioned in passing) nuclear warfare, and the enormous technological advances that seem to have occurred in a relatively short time.

I suppose the title and the concept had led me to expect something slightly more light-hearted, comical and satirical than I actual found. There is humour here, certainly, but it is not quite the Naked Gun or Hot Shots of the cyberpunk genre that I expected.

I won’t go into the details of the story here. Suffice it to say that there are mystery, intrigue, conspiracy and evil-doers in abundance. Our hero, Nicholas Guan, former military, now occasional cinematographer, finds himself in a range of dangerous situations where he is shot at, blown up, tortured and variously given a hard time. There is some back story concerning a former marriage, which sheds light on Nick’s current situation. Nick gradually unravels a mystery involving his best friend Larry and rival, multi-national wig manufacturers. It ought to be a send-up, right?

The action and more violent scenes are well-written and involve the reader closely. Nick is a likeable and believable character. The other characters around him are also quite interesting, even when they are extreme (like the leader of a religious sect that holds Nick captive for a while). The plot became complex at some points at the political/conspiracy level, and I couldn’t always quite keep track of who did what and why. That could just be me. As I was reading the scenes where Nick was held captive by the religious sect, I found myself wondering whether the story might not be working at an allegorical level. But, again, that may just be me. I remain somewhat curious about this scene. Of all the difficult situations Nick could have found himself in, why did it take precisely this form? This scene could almost be omitted without affecting the story, although I wouldn’t necessarily advocate this.

I had a sense that the author hurried somewhat towards the denouement in the last chapter or two. While I enjoyed the fast action pace of some of it, I thought there were times when the author should have slowed down, given the reader time to grasp what was going on, and given the hero more time to contemplate his decisions. Some of the interactions with other characters could have been made more personal and intimate; instead they remained at a factual/information-exchange level. I think this would have lent more impact to the moments of revelation and given more weight to the hero’s decisions. This sense of being rushed was augmented by the fact that the quality of the writing deteriorated a little here, and more errors crept in.

Overall, I thought this was an interesting and well-paced contribution to the genre. I enjoyed the concept and the world the author created. However, these did not overshadow the story or the characterisation. The writing was of a fairly high standard, except where noted. Four stars from me.