After finishing Pat Cadigan’s cyberpunk novel, Synners my only question is: Where and how did a story with so much potential go so horribly wrong?

Spoilers Included In the Following ReviewLet’s start with the dumbest part of the story first. The big bad in the story isn’t the corporation bent on world domination. Neither is it the forces of chaos or entropy. Rather, it is a stroke (no, really!) that somehow manages to become virtual and enter the worldwide network.

Yes, that’s right. A stroke. You know, the medical condition that is generally caused by starvation of blood to a particular part of the brain, usually by a burst or clotted blood vessel. Who knew that not only are strokes sentient, but they seek to be freed from our tiny little skulls so that they can travel the world, see the sights, eat at some great restaurants, and kill off a few million people along the way?

Beyond the laughably awful “villian” that threatens our characters, the characters themselves never reach their full potentials. Cadigan had some real gold ready to mine in these characters, but she instead focuses on just how she’s going to get this intensely personal medical condition out into the wider world. So, some characters that had real potential are simply dumped along the wayside while we watch The Stroke get into the vast network of computers that runs LA’s traffic system. That traffic system itself had such potential, and it shows up so often in the book, that by the end we’re just waiting for the terrible or awesome events that surely are just around the bend to unfold around that system. Instead, the sense of expectancy that Cadigan has created around the system throughout the book is casually tossed out the window like an apple core from a speeding car, never to be seen again.

It’s not clear to me where it all went so wrong. Maybe Cadigan decided to avoid the predictable “large, heartless corporation seeks world domination” angle, and was left grasping for straws. Maybe someone in Cadigan’s life had a stroke and this was her own answer to the problem. Maybe she was high on mind-altering substances for the entire period of time while she wrote this book. Quite frankly, there has to be an explantion.

So, if you’re looking for a book that leaves you feeling a bystander at multi-car pile-up involving a poultry-hauling semi, read Synners. The rest of us will be over here trying to keep our athlete’s foot fungi from virtualizing and taking over the world.