Hammered by Elizabeth Bear
If you have every read any Elizabeth Bear novels, you will be familiar with her immersive world-building and in-depth characterisations. These are apparent even in her first novel Hammered (Book 1 of the Jenny Casey series, AKA the Wetwired series) which won the 2007 Locus Award for First Novel.
Jenny Casey is a Canadian veteran of the war that they avoid calling World War III, now living in Hartford, Conneticut as a hard-boiled private investigator. Jenny received a wetwired reconstruction after being critically injured in service, leaving her with a cyborg arm, nano-technology that whips her reflexes into an augmented battle-mode when her adrenalin starts pumping — and constant pain that she self-medicates with alcohol. Despite this, she is one of only a few survivors of this kind of enhancement, and the most functional. One of the other survivors, for instance, has what is described as induced autism from hyperstimulation.
Several at first seemingly disparate events turn out to be linked: military grade drugs dropped into the Hartford gangland and killing kids, a cop goes off book to search for his partner’s killer and Jenny’s estranged somewhat sociopathic sister recruits local ronins and assassins to find her. Jenny, who has many secrets and a large amount of baggage, is furious and determined to get to the bottom of things.
We gradually learn more about the world in the 2060s through point of views of other characters: that US’s powerbase has collapsed, that China and Canada(!) have emerged as world powers propped up by Unitec, a large corporation with mysterious goals, that Captain Valens who was responsible for Casey’s augmentation wants to recruit her for an unknown project, that an AI based on the personality of Richard Fenyman is trying to hack into this project, and that two alien spacecraft were discovered on Mars many years previously.
You might be thinking “Yikes! What?!”. I certainly did, wondering where all this was going. Although the first half of the book is largely detective novel plus exposition, it does all come together and the pay off really starts to kick in around halfway into the book when we learn how all these interwoven strands are linked.
As Strange Horizons said:
Both the world in which she lives and [Jenny’s] own life story are carefully and plausibly constructed so that she can act as a nexus for all the interwoven plot strands, with connections to governments, corporations, street gangs, law enforcers, medical establishments, and scientists—and with a family and personal history that haunts her and builds connections of its own.
Elizabeth Bear is a highly entertaining and versatile writer, but she definitely does not stick to one genre or sub-genre. Her other books have covered everything from space opera, urban faeries, Western steampunk, high fantasy and more. Even with Hammered, just one book, she crosses genres expertly. One moment, you’re reading a high tech, hardboiled PI novel, the next? Well, I won’t give it away, but lets just say it’s out of this world.
The two additional books for the series, Scardown and Worldwired are also highly recommended and in the SMSA library.