Cyberpunk has a name, and its name is Melissa Scott. She almost single-handedly redefined the genre with her famous science fiction novel, Trouble and Her Friends, now in a trade paperback edition by Tor after its original publication in 1994. Trouble and all computer hackers in her world face the problem of adapting or dying. To be the best at hacking, to continue to successfully travel the paths and byways of the multitude of Internets of the future, to make a living at it, and to not be killed or arrested while doing so, takes a very special talent–and earned Trouble her nickname. At one time, not very long ago, cyberpunk was the coming greatest thing, the way the science fiction genre seemed to be headed–much as is the case with steampunk today. Melissa Scott was one of the pioneers of cyberpunk, and Trouble and Her Friends is as great now as it ever has been.
Trouble and Her Friends is about Trouble and her efforts to catch someone who is hacking into various sites and is using her name to draw attention to her, so she will get blamed for what happens. The novel focuses on Trouble and one of her best friends, Cerise, who she’s had a romantic relationship with, though other friends of Trouble also play roles in the plot. Due mainly to a new law about cybercrime that’s been passed, the Evans-Tindale Act, Trouble has decided to get out of the hacking business and lay low for a while. She doesn’t want any law enforcement agency to eventually arrive at her doorstep (though Cerise continues to hack sites), so she decides it would be better for her to start her life over somewhere else, with a new identity.
Trouble becomes India Carless and gets a job as a syscop running a small computer network for an artist’s co-op. It looks like things are settling down, until the hacker using her name and bragging about hacked sites leads suspicious agents to her, asking questions about whether or not she’s noticed any activity by a hacker named Trouble. Though she manages to answer their questions well enough to appease them, at least temporarily, the people who operate the co-op have a meeting because they have concerns that India’s past might have involved her in criminal behavior, and they don’t want the agents to come back and harass them.
Trouble is ticked off at whomever is impersonating her and causing her to get blamed for the recent wave of hacking that’s been going on, so she decides to return and find out who’s been assuming her identity. But can she do it, even with the help of her friends, without getting arrested or killed? Her efforts to do so make up the rest of the novel.
Trouble and Her Friends starts off slow, with little action really in the first section of the novel, except for times when Trouble travels through cyberspace. She is able to do this because she’s had a brainworm surgically implanted in her head, and this makes her experiences while in cyberspace three-dimensional and real for her. If she gets hurt or dies there, she does in real life, also. To combat the person Trouble starts thinking of as “the new Trouble” successfully, since technology has advanced so much further from the days when she was a full-time hacker herself, Trouble gets taken to the surgeon Michelina Huu to get a new processor and a “Prior high-speed set” installed into the dollie-slot already in her skull. Still, even with the upgrades, the fight against her will be tough:
If new Trouble was half as good as he seemed–and Trouble had no real doubt about it, from the rumors she’d heard and the work she’d seen–then any direct competition between the two of them would be decided by millisecond advantages. Knowing that he, new Trouble, was on the wire might give her just that faction of an edge, the difference that would mean beating him face to face.
I really like how vividly Melissa Scott portrays cyberspace and Trouble’s interactions in it. It’s an addictive place to go for her, Cerise, and the other hackers in the novel, so much so that they have surgery done on themselves willingly to experience being there more fully. It’s addictive enough for me and many people even today, just to be online and work on blogs, update Facebook profiles, play games, listen to music, etc., so I can imagine the allure that Trouble and her friends feel about the Internets of the future fairly well.
Trouble and Her Friends is a thought-provoking, entertaining book about hackers and Trouble’s efforts to catch someone usurping her name and identity to commit crimes. Despite its slow beginning, the action picks up, especially when Trouble gets serious about going after the new Trouble. There is some strong language in the novel, so this is a book that is not really meant for a younger audience. It’s a great pioneering novel of cyberspace and hacking for older teens and adults who are into the subgenre of cyberpunk, and like to read books that travel on the edges of reality, personal relationships, and science fiction. If that description fits you, then you should check out Trouble and Her Friends today!