Adam Sternbergh paints a bleak but well-rendered picture of a postapocalyptic New York just around the corner, where plugged-in virtual fantasy “beds” are the new cocaine for the swells in the high-rises, and the rabble down on the streets settle for the spam-clogged Internet, cheap drugs, and religion to bypass the “too sharp edges of the actual world.”
A radiation-befouled, hollowed-out shell of a city, the Big Apple stubbornly refuses to die, even with much of its population long gone, and huge swathes of it (including Times Square and parts of the subway) unfit for human use, courtesy of a prolonged series of 9/11-like attacks. But there are still joggers on the streets and hustlers, whores, and assorted other miscreants still working the surviving corners, bars, and back rooms.
One such miscreant is Spademan, a former garbage man who wears his cynicism a little too loudly and proudly on his sleeve, and who’s fond of noting that bumping off people for money isn’t much different from his former occupation—he’s still just taking out the trash. But when he’s hired by a powerful evangelist to track down and kill his pregnant runaway daughter, Spademan instead quickly switches sides, for reasons that serve the plot better than the character.
Of course, eventually we learn Spademan has his reasons.
To his credit, Sternbergh certainly creates a credible, well-thought-out future and uses enough familiar (cyber) noir tropes to connect all the dots, but we’ve seen most of this grungy urban nightmare so often in the 30-odd years since Blade Runner and William Gibson’s Neuromancer came out that this seems more like a well-done genre exercise than the fresh, original “literary” work that the author—or his publisher, perhaps—intended. The lack of dialogue tags and quotation marks is more distracting than groundbreaking, although it may garner some acclaim from the tweed jacket crowd. For the rest of us, though, we’ve been here before.