Review – Bluescreen – Dan Wells


Hello Internet. Welcome back for Review #51. This is the first review of the new paradigm! Basically a review of the same quality as before, just with longer breaks between the reviews. And to begin, a cyberpunk novel. Ahh, is it good to be back or what? (Don’t answer that.)

It took me until halfway through this book to figure out exactly what was wrong with it. That is a disproportionately long period of time for me to have a little feeling niggling at the back of my head as I walk through the world of a book (or run, or sprint, or step onto the really handy person conveyer belt thingie they sometimes have at airports and watch as the world passes me by). Superficially, Bluescreen is not a bad book. That’s probably why I continued to read it for as long as I did after my subconscious immediately took issue with it. And for the damnedest time I was just sure that telling myself that “oh, it’ll get better later, you gotta stick with it” would mean that this would actually be true and this book would magically turn into the book I needed. But of course I was left with the book I inevitably only justly deserve (Batman references for the win!).

Bluescreen is a cyberpunk novel. Self-proclaimed by the blurb, and the themes of poverty, greed, corruption and immorality against a backdrop of a gritty dystopian hard sci-fi megalopolis really prove this. Bluescreen walks, talks and acts like a cyberpunk novel, brain-jacks and all. And of course, having read (maybe about three chapters of) William Gibson’s Neuromancer and a sizable chunk of Charles Stross’ Accelerando, I know a lot about cyberpunk (</sarcasm>). But I am damn sure of one thing. Cyberpunk might be a gritty, crapsack dystopian view of the future where people rely on the digital world for their only joy, but by the nine hells it should not be full of third-person woe-is-me wow-look-at-how-shit-the-world is ANGST!

I now have a proper definition of the difference between vanilla dystopian science fiction and honest to gods cyberpunk. If there is even a passing referral of any form of teenage angst, it’s a dystopian sci-fi. If the protagonist is hard as balls and does many forms of weird science future-drugs for breakfast (here’s looking at you, Henry Case), then it is cyberpunk. If most of the book is about the invasive omnipresence of technology in this not-so-far-away future and this is a clear straw facsimile of problems in our modern world today, it’s dystopian sci-fi. If the action in the book is driven by the protagonist’s attempts to remain sane or hold on to their moral high ground as it gradually gets taken away from them by forces they cannot even begin to fight in any way, it is cyberpunk. Is there a clear line in the sand I am drawing here?

As a writer, this is a very big distinction. Hell, as a DM in a cyberpunk-themed RPG I’ve been having fun with, this merging of heathenish angst-ridden third-person sci-fi swill with one of the more gloriously underappreciated genres is downright heretical. So this book irritates me in many subtle ways, and it has the indecency to be well-written, properly thought-out and have complex enough plots and rather likable (if sometimes irritatingly overqualified) characters. Why is my job never simple?

Bluescreen was published in 2016 by Balzer + Bray, and can be found on Amazon here.

Yours: J.M. Pear

Review – Bluescreen – Dan Wells