Cyberpunk Review » Hardwired

March 14, 2007


Book Review By: David Gentle

Author: Walter Jon Williams

Year: 1986

Category: Cyberpunk Books

Hardwired Book Cover


Hardwired was born in the aftermath of Neuromancer and shares that novels idea of a central relationship between a man and a woman in which the man is a techie and the woman the hardass. Fortunately it doesn’t share much else, it’s tone being less film noir and more dime store western. That’s not necessarily a criticism because Cowboy, the central male, clearly sees himself as a product of the dream of the American west. He used to be a pilot flying home-built deltas to make sure the mail got through but when that business got destroyed by the orbital Soviet he and others like him switched over to driving tricked out hovercraft called “Panzers” with which they try to smuggle cargo across “the line”, the border between the real west and the midwest.

You’ll notice the reference to an “Orbital Soviet”, the idea being that the communist Soviet block survives into the middle of the 21st century and prospers in space leaving the foolish and impoverished capitalist nations to wallow in the mud at the bottom of the gravity well. We forget just how unassailable the soviets looked up until the end of the ’80s and it’s not uncommon in CP literature of the time to find a depiction of a futuristic Communist state because everyone in the world of Cyberpunk literature just assumed they’d keep on being an important Superpower forever and that therefore they had to be depicted.

At one point Cowboy, flying in a delta (a kind of futuristic jet fighter built in a garage out of carbon fibre and epoxy resins) shoots down an unarmed private jet because one of the people on it has been trying to kill him. At no point does he try to find out who else is on the ‘plane. He has no moral qualms about it either, he just wishes it had been a more satisfying fight, yet elsewhere we find him worrying about the welfare of children who live (apparently as sex slaves) with his benefactor Rune.

While Cowboy sees himself as a man of principle (despite his unacknowledged lapses) “in it for the ride, not the cargo” Sarah is a prostitute and assassin (tricked out with a bizarre throat mounted cyberweapon) willing to do pretty much anything (undergo extensive plastic surgery to get close enough to an aging man who’s been cloned into a young Asian woman’s body to kill him/her) to get herself and her appalling brother Daud off of Earth and into orbit where everyone important seems to live. She strikes me as more of a cipher than Cowboy. I don’t believe that anyone in her position would be quite as resolute as she is.

The two protagonists come together in the context of a botched delivery, go on the run together and then separately until there appears to be a way to to fight against the particular block of the orbital Soviet that is trying to kill them. There is no commitment romance and economics and a perverted/happy ending. Like a lot of other ’80s Cyberpunk it’s an extrapolation of then current morals into the future. There’s almost moral vacuum where the novel’s soul would normally be.

While it’s hard to get excited about the tech on display in the novel at our point in the 21st century The handling of Cowboys enhanced sensorium (as when he plugs himself into the Panzer and Delta) are well handled and the idea of people prolonging their “lives” by downloading recordings of their brains into clones of themselves was newish at the time. Also the way economics is used as the most dangerous weapon in the endgame is clever.

Hardwired is several notches above journeyman cyberpunk. Walter Jon Williams may have written space opera and an earthquake novel since he wrote Hardwired but he seems to have grasped most of the essential elements of ’80s CP.

It may be coat-tail riding but it’s a really good ride.

This post has been filed under Cyberpunk Books by David Gentle.


March 14, 2007

Bergo said:

Hey there,

I read this first in the 90s while I was a teenager. I enjoyed the book the second time around, if you’re interested in (sheepishly pointing to) my review of Hardwired.

Had a much different feel to other CP of the time. Your right about the russian Bloc fear, whereas Gibson was thinking more Japan megacorps. The whole body modding and drug use for performance by the dreggs on the street shows captures the whole “high tech, low life” style.

I am still sourcing his other novel “Voice of the Whirlwind”, it was more a space opera CP from memory, kinda star wars meets neuromancer .. but I could be remembering it not quite right.

David Gentle said:

A review of voice of the whirlwind is forthcoming but as a capsule review:
It’s an espionage thriller set 100 years after hardwired but in the same universe,

March 15, 2007

Illusive Mind said:

Great review Dave!

March 16, 2007

Case said:

Is that Dolph Lundgren on the cover?? Speaking of Lundie (I just now coined that nickname and anyone who uses it will have to pay royalties to me), I always think of the funny story in which the title of the “Johnny Mnemonic” film was almost changed to (wait for it) “Hardwired”…reportedly because studio executives couldn’t pronounce “Mnemonic”!

David Gentle said:

It occured to me after writing it that there is no mention of G-lock in the book. A man as tall as Cowboy would probably find it harder to fly a high speed jet than a shorter person. Maybe he had some kind of heart pump implant that wan’t mentioned or something…

… and please don’t call me “Dave”.


David Gentle said:

I think the guy is just “J. Random Hunk”. I certainly don’t imagine Cowboy or sarah to look like that.
I don’t think Hardwired has ever had anything other than a crappy looking cover.

SFAM said:

Rarely are the book covers directly linked with the stories. In fact, most publishers don’t like the authors talking at all with the artists of the covers. It’s strictly a marketing thing, and tells you more about the publisher’s guess at the prospective reader than it does the story.

January 4, 2008

Vio said:

Did you even read the book? There are several wrongs and/or missed translations in the article.

First off, the Orbital Soviet is not mentioned in the book until the very end, and it isn’t even a combatant in the story: Tempel Pharmaceuticals is.

Roon (not Rune as you spelled it) was not Cowboy’s benefactor. The Dodger was. Roon and Cowboy were loose allies at best in a war between Tempel and the independent thirdmen. Sarah has to convince Cowboy not to kill Roon because of the children because Roon was more useful, at that point, alive than dead. The book stresses that Cowboy is possessed of a particular ‘Code of honor’ of sorts. It also stresses that he had turned an ignorant eye to a lot of distasteful acts and people in his life to maintain the illusion of being ‘clean’ Sarah makes a point to criticize Cowboy harshly for this. In the shooting down of Arkady’s jet, Cowboy gives it no thought because Arkady is working for the opposition in the war and it noted that he likes to fly a plane when he is monitoring his troops at work. It is unlikely that there were innocent non-combatants in that war aboard the jet. It is not unlike when the US shot down Adm Yamamoto during WW2. The difference is that Roon’s children were unwilling victims of circumstance whereas Arkady’s jet was a chess move in a war.

Regarding Sarah, it is stressed often that she is quite willing to do anything to help she and her brother to escape her reality and that theme reoccurs throughout the book until the near end when she realizes, almost too late, that the price is too high. By the way, no where does it say that the Princess is asian. In fact it describes her as having blonde hair, round eyes, and freckles.

I was not impressed with the review as the author doesn’t appear to have actually read the book in detail.

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