Novel: Clipjoint by Wilhelmina Baird

Wilhelmina Baird’s Clipjoint (1994) is an enjoyable if somewhat confusing return to the stomping grounds of her debut novel Crashcourse. After the precarious events of that adventure, Cass (the thief) and Moke (the artist) have checked out to another planet, more or less retired from their previous ugly reality. But when a video clip surfaces suggesting that a friend, thought deceased, may in fact be alive and under the thumb of their nemeses at the film studio, Coelecanth, Cass and Moke head back to Ashton to investigate, resurrecting connections in the criminal underworld and putting themselves back in harm’s way.

Baird writes from the gut; there’s an edgy attitude to the prose that’s both compelling and perverse. The gritty, urban post-cyberpunk future on display here still feels ahead of its time. Unfortunately, this time it was harder to discern the plot from the eyeball kicks and cybernoir lingo. The dizzying pace of events tends to sweep the heroes from one intense set-piece to the next, side characters spinning into and out of their orbit chaotically. It’s all quite difficult to track, and I wish the narrative had poked its head out a little more often to keep me anchored. Even so it’s a swift, vibrant, and inventive read that holds up pretty solidly for twenty-year-old science fiction.

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