This medium-sized 'sci-fi implosion' novel could give you a bit of a head-ache. But it will be a good one; a worthwhile one. It comments on our present, shared reality, through the wary portrayal of a different one. I had read 'Tea from an Empty Cup' and was expecting another wry Cadigan 'glimpse with insights' into a more credible VR future, where young kids and cyberpunks mess around with technology and come up gasping....and where negative aspects of technology (abuse?) are encountered and (if somewhat slightly) dramatised....I was aware of her weaknesses with this other book; that she sacrfices truly involving/unsettling story-telling with a reliance on a cynical observational style which also thins her other characters....Although, this she counters with some great ideas and unexpected surprises (two more vital ingredients for sci-fi?)....plus clever humour, weaned from the exclusive use of such a style.
Well, I was right and wrong with Mindplayers. It is her usual tone; a smartass narrator that enables her to be world-weary towards advanced technology that is threatening our precious ideas about personal identity and humanity, and is full of addictive undertones and dependencies (proper, relevant sci-fiction and 'Cyberpunk'). For 1987, this automatically makes it interesting and ensures it an important, accessible (and more realistic than others) position in the canon....But what was really impressive was the way, in Mindplayers, she actually side-steps technology by using the conceit of hooking up mind to mind, and presenting a new future where this form of telepathy (albeit machine-enabled) is changing things. She is thus free in the book, to focus her attentions on the freedom of being perfectly lucid in other people's mental lives, and showing off her clearly knowledgable understanding of psychology.....Cadigan then achieves this thoroughly, convincingly and entertainingly.... She therefore explores virtual reality but in an intimate and psychological way, with warnings and suggestions about our identities and realities, and the way they are influenced and shaped. Her character is someone who is attempting to directly heal other people's internal lives or psychoses, although carrying the weight of her own, and this produces interesting results with relevance for how actual psychologists attempt this. Her well-honed use of a 'deadpan', emotionless tone becomes highly suited, but can still occasionally do little justice to some of the ideas, that become revelations more to herself as a writer than to us as readers. Much less so however in this work.
Ultimately, we are shown the dangers of influence, of identities altered for survival, of too much dependence on others eroding our own identity...and this is the strength of the book, along with other sci-fi assets, such as good background features and settings such as the Park and the concept of 'reality affixing', and such as mindplaying with a dead mind. This latter case is one of the more scary warnings of the imagined technology allowing for such a strong level of intrusion.
Revelations come through experiences, and those shown to us in this book, and in the rather quick crescendo at the end, which leaves us strongly reminded about the difference between reality and our 'state of existence'. The book resonates as its own mental experience, and is highly stimulating and great for meditation, for assisting us in imagining the reality - or future - it portrays. And it's a very possible future, although perhaps more indirectly.