Posted on October 28, 2008 by Monica Valentinelli
Cyberpunk. The word can conjure images of nihilism, drug abuse, post-apocalyptic societies and a world gone wrong because someone, somewhere took advantage of technology. It’s often a classic look at the “haves” versus the “have nots” which, in this case, typically are those who understand, own and manipulate technology better than the end user. A sub-genre of science fiction, cyberpunk usually delves into heady themes that involve morality, Machiavellian politics, addiction and a breakdown of the social structure.
Empathy is the first novel in the series Street, written by Ryan A. Span. First offered online, this is a book that falls neatly within the cyberpunk genre. You might not think so by the cover; a painting of a woman with a “third eye” graces the cover of the book. While the painting was done well (thanks to the talented Jan Popisil), it does nothing to allude that the book is cyberpunk, and it truly is.
Gina uses a drug called “third eye” which is also known as “Spice.” It’s a mind-altering drug that opens a channel between the user and their target, so the user can read minds with a side effect — users typically go insane. Gina is not the typical user, however, and begins to experience some side effects of her own that occur even without her taking the drug.
The novel opens with Gina taking a job because she needs the money. Here she encounters Gabriel, a larger-than-life character she’s paid to scan, only to find out his mind has more nightmares than Steven King has written books. After this job-gone-wacky, Gina ends up on the run from whomever (or whatever) Gabriel is with Bomber, Rat, Jock and a few other dangerous allies, like the Emperor. With the constant threat of Gabriel behind them, you find out more about the characters as they rely on their connections to the world–that range from hard criminals to federal law enforcement–for survival.
Street: Empathy is written in a detective noir meets Bladerunner style with an innovative use of vocabulary that’s well-blended into the storyline. Visual and fast-paced, this is a chase scene with a seemingly unbeatable bad guy and a somewhat fragile main character. As a main character, Gina is not the heroine of this tale, but the victim. In my opinion, without the subset of supporting characters and random luck there is no way that Gina would have been able to survive Gabriel’s pursuit. I felt that the relationship between Gabriel and Gina was more of a misogynistic one, that can only end or evolve when Gina comes into her own. In many ways this novel borders on pulp, with its cinematic feel and its colorful cast of characters in a larger-than-life setting that offers more questions than answers.
I feel that Ryan can afford to “go deep” in the next novel and do more character development for Gina as she matures, especially now that he’s done a lot of the world-building for Street. I’m also hoping that Gina will return to the Street of Eyes where her journey first began, to show how this fright-filled chase has changed her and how her friends have helped her in the end.
Overall, I thought that Ryan did a great job integrating his world-building into the novel without inundating the reader with too many explanations or details, which is very challenging in any futuristic setting, but especially one where everything has changed–including the political structure. Perfect for cyberpunk fans who like a little edge in their novels, you can check out Street: Empathy on Ryan’s website at http://streetofeyes.com or order the book through Gryphonwood Press.
Review by Monica Valentinelli