Fair warning: this will be a brutal review for a brutal read. There will be spoilers, and I'm going to have to swear. If you don't like those things, stop reading here and take the stars for what they are.
God, this motherfucker is flawed, but in a gorgeous way. Like watching the theatrical cut of Blade Runner for the first time, knowing there are superior cuts, acknowledging the devastating faults right alongside the stuff that is absolutely fucking brilliant. If books got to have director's cuts, I'd pick up that version in an instant, but since they don't, I'm going to have to keep this one on the bookshelf to page through and wonder why the fuck it wasn't perfect. So close and yet so far away.
Cyberpunk, biopunk, splatterpunk... well, it's as punk as it gets, then stops being punk and goes full noir, and then goes Pynchon psychedelic, and then throws up and staggers through L.A., screaming like Hunter S. Thompson about goddamn bats. It's got the grit, it's got the violence, it's got the intense, phantasmagoric techno worldbuilding. It's got more gems than a diamond mine, filled with sewage. It's Se7en with robots.
What did I love about it? Eliot Lazar, his history, his lunacy, his addiction. Hot damn, this guy does addiction right, and all the hideous shit that comes with it. The splendid awfulness. Spot on. Actually, though I hated his first scenes, Shelley Lazar becomes rather epic as time goes on, enough that I sort of hope he gets his own spin-off. Eliot is a tortured soul, but Shelley is a madman for its own sake. I dig it.
Flaubert. Ochoa. The whole corrupt police force. But Flaubert in particular had some wonderfulness to him that made me WANT HIM TO WIN, even though any success he had would destroy the narrative. And then we had psychopaths (a good percentage of the human cast) of varying levels of brick-shitting terror-inducing malevolence. One scene in particular had me on the edge of being physically ill, and for that, I must show respect.
The diggers. The disciples. Militiamen. The whole system. The slow build of 'what defines right in an age of property' philosophy. It's a beautiful thing. It's why this book has four stars instead of two or three.
What did I not like? Not going to lie, there are some serious cliches that do damage just by being there. The most grievous of these involved a small child being sympathy fodder at an inopportune time, and it almost crossed the line to cause me to close the damn book. Another, so close to the end, made me blaspheme out loud in front of group of small children, and I absolutely did not care. The one with the screwdriver. You'll know it when you get there.
And the end... actually, I can dig the end, because it's a total descent into insanity. Where the first act was a horrible and majestic love story and the second became a taught police thriller, the third decayed into an episodic train of bizarre, for-the-hell-of-it antics and forced plotting, not bothering to tie up half of the subplots begun in the first hundred pages. Bu the epilogue made it work. Some have called this a cliffhanger, but I truly hope this is the end of the story. In a tale less about the meaning of life than the meaning of death, there could only be one way to end things, and that is how it went.
Do I recommend this? Yes. Did I like it? Yes. Has it scarred me? A little. Okay, maybe a little more than a little, and it pissed me off all the while. But for the failings this book contains, it is certainly superior science fiction. This book has made me want to drink, and that's saying something.
Approach with caution.