‘Snake-Eyes’ by Tom Maddox
Like most people these days, when I come across an unfamiliar name I Google it. Tom Maddox is notable enough to have a Wikipedia page but the last notable thing he did in terms of science fiction was co-write a couple of episodes of The X-Files with William Gibson.
If Gibson’s ‘The Gernsback Continuum’ is a dream of the past’s future, ‘Snakes-Eyes’ the past’s dream of the future. I take Marco’s point that the signature tropes of cyberpunk have only been agreed retrospectively but just five years after Gibson’s story they were already clearly pretty codified.
George Jordan is an ex-pilot being driven slowly crazy by the technology the USAF have implanted in his head. Finding no support from government, he turns to a shady corporation (who have their headquarters in orbit, natch). I’m sure the combat veteran with tech in his head pre-dates cyberpunk and it remains extremely popular – for example, Gavin Smith actually published a book called Veteran last year – but I certainly associate it with cyberpunk. All the set dressing you might anticipate is here: that floating corporate castle; an inscrutable AI (encased in a five metre sphere “filled with inert liquid fluorocarbon”); technology as double-edged sword leading to a lack of bodily integrity; at the same time, a fetishisation of that technology (Jordan flew a “black fiber-bodied General Dynamics A-230”).
It is there in the characters too. The first major character Jordan meets is “lying back in a chrome and brown leatherette chair”:
“He was a thin figure in a worn gray obi, his black hair pulled back from sharp features into a waist-length ponytail, his face taut and a little wild-eyed.”
Japanese fashion and an amphetamine aesthetic – cyberpunk to the bone. The first woman he meets is an Eighties femme fatale: black skirt, red stocking, tattoo on her breast, tongue down his throat. For me, the story was never able to overcome this list of images and influences though. Jordan’s central dilemma, the battle for his soul, doesn’t manage to stand out from the brightly coloured building blocks of the consensual cyberpunk future.