Richard Kadrey’s Metrophage says “Society is a Carnivorous Flower”
Written in 1988, Metrophage is a first wave cyberpunk novel with most of the usual trappings. There is no middle class anymore, just the super-rich and the dirt poor.
Los Angeles is home to Jonny, a pusher with a troubled past. He is linked to The Committee, a militant faction with more resources than the police and sentiments similar to white nationalism. Jonny is the now fairly typical cyberpunk anti-hero. Unlike most anti-heroes though, he’s also emotionally tethered to his partner, Sumi. The impetus of his adventure is wanting to avenge the death of his friend Raquiem who killed by another player in this underworld, Easy Money.
Sumi terrified him. Sometimes, in his more callous moments, he considered her a slip up, his one remaining abandonment to emotional ties. Occasionally, when he felt strong, he would admit to himself that he loved her.
Future Los Angeles is Classic Cyberpunk Setting
In the future, Los Angeles only functions as a hub for criminal activity that supports other criminals. Everything else has ceased to function. It’s dirty, gritty, and overrun with gangs vying for a small piece of the pie. Have or have not, people seem to be waiting for the end by using one vice or another to self-medicate. As with most everyone in Metrophage, the past catches up with Jonny on his murderous hunt for Easy. Colonel Zamora picks him up and gives him 48 hours to deliver his drug-lord boss or else die a very unpleasant death.
Like some fragile species of hothouse orchid, the city existed only as long as it had the politicos’ backing. Without that, the Committee would be on them like rabid dogs. For the moment, though, the balance was there. Merchandise flowed out and cash flowed in, blood and breath of the city.
Read Metrophage If You Want To Watch The World Burn
The rest of the plot is Johnny ping-ponging his way around the city as the powder keg catches fire, navigating different factions and trying to get to back to Sumi amongst the chaos. There are aspects of noir injected into the story, and it takes a lot of inspiration from other first-wave cyberpunk books, especially William Gibson. Johnny gets his ass thoroughly kicked. The world makes it clear that taking an interest and getting involved is a hazard most people can’t survive.
But the most interesting parts of Metrophage are often the worldbuilding and small details nestled therein that really make the story shine. The novel focuses on the seductive and duplicitous ways the people draw one another in for self-serving connections only to be consumed by their own ambitions and greed, all while the world burns down.
Everything comes at a cost. The drug lord who’s lived a long life is a lease. The drug is ultimately going to kill him and he knows it. The extension could be seen as more of a curse than a blessing. Everything bad is good for you and vice versa. When you finally lose it all, true apathy takes you and your story is then truly over. Bleak sentiment from a world gone to hell. You’re lucky to discover the beauty before you are devoured. No one gets out alive.
We’re the trained dogs of the spectacle…it’s devoured our lives, our art, our dignity. But existence is not determined by the whim of politicians.