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Book News

Review: 'Tea from an Empty Cup' pushes cyberpunk to a new level

'Tea from an Empty Cup'
by Pat Cadigan

Tor, $22.95

Review by L.D. Meagher

(CNN) -- Artificial reality can be a killer. First it seduces you with mind-expanding imagery and the promise of a new life where you can be anybody or anything. Then it sucks your bank account dry as you get lost in a new world of sensory experience. And in some cases, you end up dead.

Homicide detective Dore Konstantin isn't looking for kicks when she dons a hotsuit and enters the world of AR. She's looking for a murderer. A young woman named Yuki plunges into AR in search of her missing friend, who may -- or may not -- be the man found dead in an AR booth.

All that is just an excuse, of course. What author Pat Cadigan really wants to do is explore the landscape of artificial reality, the next generation of computer imaging. Combining the technologies of virtual reality with interactive video games and the Internet, Cadigan populates "Tea from an Empty Cup" with a bewildering variety of characters. Some are real, in the sense that they exist outside the realm of cyberspace. Others are constructs, personae, adopted by AR travelers. And some seem to be neither, or perhaps both.

Adding to the confusion is the fundamental fact of AR life. As one character describes it, "It's artificial reality -- all you can do is lie, no matter what you say, and the believers are the ones at fault. Because it's all make believe, let's-pretend, the play's the thing."

As a result, the story line of "Tea from an Empty Cup" doesn't make much sense. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. The plot is just the sales pitch, the enticement to lure the reader into the realm of AR. Once inside, all pretense of rationality disappears, despite the best efforts of Konstantin to make the cyber-world conform to the real world.

Cadigan was dubbed "the Queen of Cyberpunk" in the 1980s. As often happens in the science fiction genre, technology is starting to catch up with the wild imaginings of its denizens. "Tea from an Empty Cup" allows her to push the limits of cyberpunk to a new level. It is not a quantum leap, but it is a viable next step. Her images of the demimonde called AR are as rich in texture as they are devoid of moral context. The pictures aren't pretty, but they are fascinating.

L.D. Meagher is a senior writer at CNN Headline News. He has worked in broadcasting for nearly 30 years.

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