There is a moment in Jack Womack's Terraplane which describes a fault that I am liable to indulge in this chapter: the narrator Luther observes: ‘The love of plot is my disease’. It is in the nature of the following analysis to be plot-driven. But this invocation of disease leads me in turn to refer to a virus. In the afterword to Heathern, Jack Womack notes ‘If Heathern is the first or, for that matter, second exposure that you have had to my particular virus, I should recommend that you now read, or reread, in this order, Ambient and Terraplane ’. Of course, a disease is ‘an ailment’ and a virus is something which is transmitted, but in popular usage, the two can be interchangeable. The plot transmits, reproduces and mutates like a virus through the Dryco Chronicles.
Womack's Dryco Chronicles is projected to be a six-book series consisting of Ambient (1988), Terraplane (1988), Heathern (1990), Elvissey (1993), Random Acts of Senseless Violence (1993) and the book which completes the sequence, which has yet to be written. This chapter will investigate the different ways in which they can be read, according to the order in which they are read, and will examine the position of these books within post-Neuromancer sf.
Many of the books come with cover endorsements from William Gibson. In one quotation, Gibson describes the book's impact as ‘A jarringly potent kick in the head.’ In another he compares it with his own work: ‘[Terraplane 's] mostly set in an unbelievably bad New York of the near future. If you dropped the characters from Neuromancer into his Manhattan, they'd fall down screaming and have nervous breakdowns.’ This suggests that, even if these books are not actually cyberpunk, then the reader who likes cyberpunk will approve of them. But whether these books are cyberpunk or not surely depends on how we define the genre.
In my paper on Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash and Jeff Noon's Vurt, given at the Strange Attractors conference in 1994, I isolated three areas of supposed novelty in cyberpunk that critics, often critics new to sf, seemed to have latched onto: a computer-generated realm, language and character.