European Review of Speculative Fiction

Andor Bochenkov

 

Title: Peacefire

Author: Amber Bird

 

Peacefire opens with a bang and never lets go. Amber Bird’s skewed take on cyberpunk drags the reader through a queered up, near future landscape of one potential dystopia waiting for us around the corner. Breezy and light in tone, it could be read as young adult or adult fiction; but Bird takes the themes of cyberpunk – high tech, low life – to a new and sometimes enlightening place. She focuses on the roots of dystopia: the disintegration of family, the loss of identity and privacy, the erosion of moral choice in a consumer culture.

Written from a female hacker’s point of view, Bird stays realistic about her character’s limitations both social and physical. Much of the book takes place on a couch, with the narrator focused on the arduous and, at times pointless, process of information gathering, coding and security intrusion. Forget what you know about tough men with electrodes stapled to their foreheads making instant cyberchoices which condemn the world. This book shines light on the demented concept of cyberpunk’s iconic macho loner. Bird shows instead a family struggling with slow motion disaster and tasting every repercussion of choices they’ve made or having lost agency, that were made for them by prior generations.

She dwells on moral agency, the thrill of the long hunt and the necessary interconnectedness of being a real person, making her cyberpunk as much a genre criticism as an adventure story.  One part morality tale, one part queer re-vision of the universe, three dashes of crazy plot twists and some romance, this book could well have been Pride, Prejudice and Global Conspiracy if Lizzie had a genderless sibling, way too much computer hardware and access to unlimited cat videos. If you aren’t queer, neuro-atypical, versed in fighting the Man or otherwise used to the weird wild universe of everyone who isn’t walking around with lots of power and privilege, then this novel might be a soft entry into the critical rejection of what starts as mansplaining and ends with the deaths of continents.