The "Queen of Cyberpunk," as Pat Cadigan has been described, proves once again just how much she deserves the moniker. Cadigan, a female author in a subgenre dominated by males, is a brilliant and accessible voice bringing a breath of warmth to the cold, cynical milieu of cyberpunk. In Tea from an Empty Cup she demonstrates that there is but a bleak shred of hope for humanity in a near future where the most obvious goal of the majority is to get the most bang for their virtual entertainment buck, and where the online experience is far more engrossing -- and potentially deadly -- than reality.
Dore Konstantin, a wry, hardened cop, is called to investigate the death of a young man in an Artificial Reality booth. The clues are few -- a locked door, no signs of struggle -- but the Caucasian boy with the Japanese name is undeniably dead, his throat slit while he took a walk in post-Apocalyptic Noo Yawk Sitty, the latest top tourist attraction in the virtual world. A whole category of urban legend is devoted to tales of people who died while in AR -- the virtual skydiver whose parachute refused to open (found with all his bones shattered) is but one, and much like the old saw about dying for real if you die in a dream. Of course, these things always happened somewhere else; most people, when relating these spooky stories, say it was in D.C. ("Life is so cheap there, you know, it's a whole different world," a refrain that is echoed with dark humor throughout). Konstantin is unconvinced, and starts the search for a flesh-and-blood killer.
While the cop hunts a murderer, a young woman named Yuki of Japanese descent sets out on her own quest to find her here again, gone again boyfriend. He has disappeared into a dark urban underground of cybersex nightclubs ruled over by the seductive Joy Flower and her army of oriental pretenders. Yuki's descent into the post-Apocalyptic Noo Yawk Sitty AR gives her clues to Tom's fate and shows her glimpses of the spirit of her grandmother's Japan, a place that no longer exists in the real world. A shadow force is gathering in virtuality, a threat able to use and wield as a weapon the apathy and ennui rampant in reality. As mysterious deaths across the country prompt Konstantin to plug herself into AR, her investigation and Yuki's search angle toward each other in a frightening, inevitable rush, revealing both the real and hyper-real natures of a murderous collective consciousness.
Tea from an Empty Cup imagines a future frighteningly plausible from our vantage in the late-late 20th century. Social and individual identities have become enigmatic and subsumed, human relationships are grown empty and illusory: a true world abandoned for a false but conversely more sensual one. Where once compassion and concern for one's fellows dwelt there is now only a yawning, sickening emptiness. Cadigan tempers the horror of her envisioned world with occasional humor and enigmatic hints at redemption. Tea from an Empty Cup is a thought-provoking, quality book for even those readers who wouldn't normally touch cyberpunk with a virtual ten-foot pole.