Cyberpunk Book Review: Deep Cuts EditionTEA FROM AN EMPTY CUP by Pat Cadigan
Cyberpunk Book Review: Deep Cuts Edition
TEA FROM AN EMPTY CUP by Pat Cadigan
Pat Cadigan is a well-known name in cyberpunk. She’s edited a number of anthologies her short stories appear in any collection worth its salt. Yet until I stumbled upon this strange little novel, I’d never read any of her longer works.
TEA FROM AN EMPTY CUP is a weird, wonderful post-cyberpunk detective story that features two female protagonists investigating two separate but connected crimes.
Dore Konstantin is a homicide detective tasked with figuring out how an IRL murder is related to the VR simulation the victim was using at the time of his death.
Yuki, a young Japanese woman displaced by a horrendous natural disaster that wiped out her country, searches for her missing friend, Tom, believing that he has been enslaved or killed by a formidable madame named Joy Flower, who is known for using and abusing handsome young men in her club.
Both women’s investigations take them into the strange, virtual post-apocalyptic wasteland of New Yawk Sitty where their lack of experience with AR/VR renders them vulnerable to an eerie shift within the AR/VR landscape wherein it seems some players have found a way to escape the confines of the system and manipulate the real world via their online avatars.
If you enjoy books with lots of puzzles, clues, and symbolism you will have fun picking apart this mystery and trying to figure out how all the pieces fit. But in true literary style, you will not receive a neat and tidy ending explanation in the end. Cadigan weaves all the bits of the mystery together, and in the end I was about 98% sure I knew what had happened, but she never outright says it the way a lot of detective novels today do. Also, there remains a symbolic mystery that could be taken a few different ways in the end. I keep thinking about it, weeks after I’ve finished the book.
What I liked best about this cyberpunk deep-cuts gem is Cadigan’s use of female characters, and her exploration of how technology changes our relationship with our physical bodies. This is one of my favourite themes in cyberpunk, the dissociation between the digital and physical self, and one which I think is sometimes overlooked in the face of flashier cybernetic enhancements. Cadigan uses this theme to push the boundaries of sex and gender, and questions some of the things we attribute as male/female in our society.
It’s perhaps a bit out of date, being written in 1998, but is leaps and bounds ahead of George Alec Effinger’s treatment of the same subject matter in WHEN GRAVITY FAILS (1983). For the record, I also loved that book, but for very different reasons.
Overall, I’d give this book a ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐/🦾🦾🦾 rating. I think the mystery aspect of the story is interesting and engaging enough to hold most readers, regardless of how experienced they are in the cyberpunk genre, and cyberpunk fans will find even greater satisfaction in Cadigan’s unique take on some common cyberpunk themes.
Reviews on this title are very divided, so proceed with caution. But I think most dissatisfied reviewers wanted a bit more spoon-feeding than Cadigan gave us, so if you don't like to have to think too much when you're reading, you might want to skip it. It's also not a fast-paced, action-packed thriller, so I'd recommend it for when you're in the mood for something a bit slower with a dash of philosophical pondering.
Have you read it? What is your favourite work by Pat Cadigan?