Cyberpunk, more than any other genre, needs to move with the times, and Glitch Rain certainly has that going for it. It’s a novella grounded in modern technology and internet culture – news coverage has devolved into clickbait, drones are ordinary to the point of banality, and the main character, Akuba, makes her living by wiping her wealthy clients from social media. Alex Livingston’s vision of the future is one where “personal privacy’s for the rich”, a depressingly plausible prediction of where society is heading, even if the novella’s over the top action sequences stop it from feeling ‘realistic’ as such.
The plot opens with Akuba and her accomplice Isaac ‘erasing’ a wealthy client at a seedy nightclub, and the action kicks off when they spot a shifty-looking secret agent, and learn about the impracticalities of having a car chase in a driverless car. They soon ends up embroiled an international conspiracy involving mysterious assassins, stolen weapons tech and a sadistic gangster who looms over everything. It’s a fast-moving action story, and Livingston keeps it lively with some snappy one-liners and compelling settings, which manage to be distinctive and strange while still feeling like an outgrowth of modern technology and social trends.
The chapters set on an island made of floating rubbish are a highlight of the book, especially given that it’s actually a luxury resort for the wealthy, and Livingston gets in some gloriously cynical wise-cracks, with highlights including “It’s as quiet as a church. Or at least as quiet as Akuba assumes a church to be” and “Artists always respond to free drinks”. Akuba’s globe-trotting takes her to every point of the supply chain of modern technology, from places of disposal to consumption to manufacturing, and Livingston’s obvious familiarity with both modern technology and the conditions under which it is made lends the novella a hard edge of verisimilitude. Glitch Rain is completely up-to-the-minute in its outlook, which is odd given that its structure feels distinctly old-fashioned.
We tend to think of novellas as singular, self-contained works, but Glitch Rain reads more like a pulp magazine serial. Each chapter opens with Akuba travelling somewhere new or beginning a new operation, even re-introducing her by name with sentences like “There are a few boons life’s adventures have given Akuba”. Each chapter then presents a big set piece, either an action sequence or a tense conversation, building to a cliffhanger to set up the next one. It’s an effective enough way of generating suspense, but it feels like something better experienced in short instalments than all in one go. The result is a story with no room to breathe. Akuba gets a few good character moments, including a nice little dream sequence, but the rest of the characters feel shallow and under-developed, as the story blazes by with barely a moment of downtime. The novella ends on a blatant sequel tease, and it feels unearned simply because there doesn’t seem to be anything more to explore about these characters or their world.
There’s also some shoddy copyediting on display, with sentences like “If was really tracking us, we would have been cinders as soon as we stepped off the ship”, and instances of using four dots instead of three for an ellipsis. These may seem like petty nitpicks, but slip-ups like these make the book look painfully amateurish, and the underground hacker quality only goes so far in excusing things.
But despite occasional technical problems, Glitch Rain is fairly solid overall. A brisk, no-nonsense techno-thriller with some clever stylistic touches, it’s a fun little ride which feels completely in tune with the zeitgeist. Worth checking out for cyberpunk fans, even if it’s unlikely to trouble the Hugo Awards.