If a paycheck could change your life, do you think they’d let you have one?
Walkaway is a book about many things, but the quote above is a kernel the book really wants you to mull over. The rest is a thought experiment viewed from a few different characters’ eyes. On paper, this book has everything I want from a post-cyberpunk book, including callbacks to the first wave cyberpunk books.
Et Cetera’s full name is Hubert Vernon Rudolph Clayton Irving Wilson Alva Anton Jeff Harley Timothy Curtis Cleveland Cecil Ollie Edmund Eli Wiley Marvin Ellis Espinoza
Hubert Vernon Rudolph Clayton Irving Wilson Alva Anton Jeff Harley Timothy Curtis Cleveland Cecil Ollie Edmund Eli Wiley Marvin Ellis Espinoza is feeling the woes of the generation gap when he and his best friend, Seth, go to a Communist party. Just as a rich, young future “zotta” (essentially a powerful 1%-er) drops some millennial knowledge about how their generation is attempting to resist the system, the authorities show up and exercise excessive force to remove them from the abandoned premises, setting the trio on a path that has them walk away from society.
Step 1: Break The System — Step 2: ??? — Step 3: Profit
The book follows these three and other walkaways through their “schlepping” days, a period in which they adapt to a lifestyle where people occupy abandoned spaces away from the “default”: the mainstream way of life that has been accepted across this fictional world, a world that never feels far away from our own. Sure, the novel features interface surfaces that characters intuit for computer functionality–not yet a completely simulated reality, but more of an augmented one, along with mechs and fabricating printers. The daily lives of people with technology have not diverted from ours. The day-to-day of the typical citizen is intact, creating a through line that the form of resistance everyone has in the structure of our civilization currently is held by everyone. The power structures come from the active participation in the citizens to abide and uphold it. The story reads like an ongoing thought experiment with this premise in mind, from young teens walking away to an even further future.
The “punk” in cyberpunk constantly needs to be reevaluated, because the punk movement has died does not mean there are no forms of resistance that would classify people as punks. Making the cyberpunk and post-cyberpunk genre far from dead as some people posit. This text is great at showing this and does so with as diverse a cast of characters as I’ve read. For this genre in particular though, I would say it exceeds expectations. There is good LGBTQ+ representation, a wide variety of relationships, and from a large number of backgrounds.
Additionally, the text also explores simulated, digital minds that are simply called sims. They scan the person’s mind and then attempt to run them on hardware. I say attempt because not all people take to being a digital human. This is also done well and explored more in-depth and in a more believable way than some science fiction. You can tell the author has been keeping up with current thinking on simulated selves and Artificial Intelligence.
As I said, this story has most everything I look for in a cyberpunk story on paper. In practice, though, I couldn’t help but feel like all of the things I wanted were boxes being ticked. Although the character work is far from poor, some the LGBTQ+ characters don’t feel believable in a lived in-and-experienced kind of way. Sometimes rather than people, they are merely a lens. A much-needed one, but the dialogue ends up feeling stilted because of this frame. I think this is also close to unavoidable when you’re exploring so many high concepts and need a way to articulate each viewpoint. The dialogue becomes the vehicle for large info dumps, particularly in the first half 50 pages where it isn’t so much a story as a few people at a party telling you what post-capitalism is and why it is bad.
Coupled with a couple reoccurring annoyances, this book ended up being one that I returned too without much enthusiasm despite its interesting themes. If I had to read “Hubert, etc.” One more time when no other characters last name was ever mentioned, for instance, I was going to throw the book against a wall. Luckily that’s just for around 60 pages or so.
If you can make it through the info dumps, strange pacing, and the annoying cadence that I felt was there, you should end up being glad to have read Walkaway—as I am.