Hammerjack is the debut novel from Mark D. Giller, though the quality of his written words would lead you to think otherwise. Giller postulates a future of computer network hackers (or hammerjacks) and synthetic intelligence (SI) all in search of a rumored supercomputer. Throughout, Giller does many things in this novel, and most of them he does very well. The protagonist of this novel, Cray Alden is himself, a former hammerjack who now works for the corporations he once trafficked data from, only now he stops the hammerjacks. However, there have been rumors of something within the data networks, something possibly alive, threatening the power stability between SIs and humans.
Like many of these futuristic tales, and indeed, almost a mirror of life today, corporations are the most powerful organizations in the world. Upsetting the corporations’ power structure of technology is the Inru, a fanatical cult who set themselves against the technological advances increasingly dominating the world. Cray is caught between the corporation he works for and the Inru as he searches for the source of this living super computer. At each turn, people he thinks he can trust reveal themselves to be something else, and only one person comes to his aid, the hammerjack Cray has been hunting since he left the life of a hammerjack behind. This mysterious and elusive hammerjack is virtually an urban legend known only as Heretic. The events that lead Cray to Heretic give him no choice except to trust Heretic.
From the opening sequence in the prologue to the closing scenes of the novel, Giller has crafted a true page-turner, blending fast paced action with plausible technological postulations. This novel has a similar feel to Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, the mood and atmosphere are reminiscent of Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, with an amplified sense of urgency. The opening prologue scene was very reminiscent of The Matrix, while the most recent novel this novel resonates with is probably Richard K. Morgan’s wonderful Altered Carbon. In this, Giller has given people familiar with this work a sense of implied comfort, though he has definitely told his own engaging story that doesn’t allow the reader to get too comfortable.
Comparing Giller’s debut novel to three such well received and in two cases, landmark novels, may seem high praise, but for the most part, Giller has delivered an impressive novel. The mysterious path of where humanity is taking technology, or perhaps where humanity is being led by technology, is the driving theme throughout this novel. From the very beginning of the novel, people are trying to locate an elusive technological advancement, something that has grown beyond the control of the people who created this self-aware supercomputer. All throughout, Cray searches for this talismanic supercomputer.
In Hammerjack, Giller raises many questions, but does not provide definitive answers, which is more often than not the most important thing an SF writer does. The only real shortcoming in this novel is the protagonist, Cray Alden. Through the majority of the novel, his character is almost a cipher, as Alden is swept along in the plot rather than a true participant decision maker in the story. Only towards the end does he become a stronger player and decision maker in the story, and even then, he is not the force his supporting players are, nor is Alden’s character drawn as well. The characters of Avalon and Lea Prism are two particularly well-drawn characters, strong women who provide more drive for the narrative than does Alden. Prism particularly has a nice amount of depth and complexity, more so than Alden.
Minor griping aside, Marc D. Giller has crafted an impressive novel, one that should appeal to the same people enjoying Richard K. Morgan’s novels as well as readers looking for something fast paced with a healthy injection of technological evolution. The past few years have seen a growing number of new writers hit the SF scene with the writing and storytelling skill equal to or better than those who have preceded them. Mark D. Giller’s Hammerjack is no exception to this, and indeed, and his name can easily be added to this list of new writers to watch.
© 2005 Rob H. Bedford
Author’s Web site: http://www.hammerjack.net