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Tea From an Empty Cup

by Pat Cadigan

hardcover edition

Pat Cadigan is the master of cyberpunk that makes you go "Huh?" Her latest novel, Tea From an Empty Cup, is a stylish, sharply written novel that starts out as a locked-room murder mystery and turns into a noirish game of virtual hide-and-seek. Cadigan is still the master of the cutting one-liner, but the tone of this novel is so dark that it's witty without being funny.

Nothing in AR -- artificial reality -- is real, so nothing there can hurt you physically. But when a young man mysteriously gets his throat slit while he's in a locked AR booth, police detective Dore Konstantin discovers that his death may be related to a string of deaths that all apparently occurred in the same artificial reality, post-Apocalyptic Noo Yawk Sitty. Dore goes looking for answers among the sociopaths and desperate social climbers who inhabit the Sitty.

Nothing in AR is true, so don't believe anything you hear. Yuki is a young woman of pure Japanese descent. (Descent is nearly all the Japanese have left, since Japan was destroyed by massive earthquakes several decades ago.) Yuki's not-quite-boyfriend Tom has disappeared while in the employ of cult icon Joy Flower. To find Tom, Yuki joins Joy's entourage, then finds herself trapped in AR, pursuing elusive glimpses of Tom and trying to figure out what Joy's game is before it kills her.

Nothing in AR is free. Cadigan plays this for laughs, with billing reminders and surcharges that pop up constantly during play. The unfortunate corollary is that anything is for sale, if someone wants it badly enough.

Cadigan has always liked playing games with identity, and Tea From an Empty Cup is no exception. Important secrets are only hinted at as Dore and Yuki stumble in circles around each other. The last sentence of the book -- no peeking, now -- comes out of left field to cast the entire story in a different light. Recommended to readers who don't mind having to unravel a story after they finish it.

-- Christina Schulman.
Reviewed in
February 1999

hardcover edition
Publisher: Tor
Date: October 1998
ISBN: 0-312-86665-8
Binding: hardcover
Pages: 256
Price: US $22.95

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