Walter Jon Williams' novels include the cyberpunk
, Voice of the Whirlwind
, Angel Station
, Knight Moves
, The Crown Jewels
, House of Shards
, and Days of Atonement
. I would like to focus on three of these as not only great science fiction
, not only for their resonances with other classics, but as measures of how success affects an author's work.
In Hardwired, the heroes are on the bottom -- Cowboy, a pilot grounded by realpolitik, reduced from "The Pony Express" to a panzerjock, running bootlegged medical supplies across the borders of a balkanized U.S., the loser in a war against the Orbitals. In a "rockfall war", the drug companies destroyed the governments and economies of Earth. Clearly inspired by the Lunarian War of Independence from The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, this war is different, a battle not for freedom but for domination. The heroine is a dirtgirl, a mercenary, whose ambition is to buy her ticket, to purchase sufficient stock in an Orbital combine to be employed off-planet. Their stories begin separate but dovetail together neatly. In the end, they alter the social order, infiltrating one of the Orbitals with the help of a disembodied comrade of Cowboy's named Reno. In the end, they beat the Big Guys and rock the social structure.
In Angel Station, a few years later, the heroes are still on the bottom, but what a difference! They are siblings, artificially engendered, named Beautiful Maria and Ubu Roy (from the dada play about a destroying ruler), bequeathed a decrepit spaceship by their "father". They discover aliens, who posess a biological technology assuring them a nearly infinite source of the drugs that have become humanity's currency. Although not a sequel to Hardwired, it has some of the same jumping off points. In the end, they become wealthy, joining the ruling class spurned by Cowboy. Rather than alter society, they join it.
In Aristoi, Williams has arrived, and seems no longer able to empathize with the lowclass down-at-the-heels horoes of his earlier books. Gabriel Vissarionovitch is an Aristos, the highest of the high. This future is the true inheritor of Hardwired. The implanted computer interfaces are called renos, a reference to the first Limited Personality -- and Limited Personalities, or daimones are the heart of this book. The Aristoi are those who have complete control over the different facets of their minds, and can actually have their daimones doing quite different things simultaneously, mental multitasking. At one point Gabriel makes love to another Aristos in the oneirochronon (translates loosely as dreamtime, virtual reality literally more real than the Realized World) while making love to his latest conquest in reality, switching control of his oneirochronic body and real body seamlessly. At other points his daimones design nano, compose music, excercise his body, and other tasks without his conscious control -- and in the case of one daimon, without even his knowledge.
Gabrial discovers a plot that threatens to destroy the Logarchy, the stable civilization ruled by the Aristoi since the destruction of Earth "under a wave of Indonesian Mataglap nano", nanotech machines that ran out of control and disassembled the world and all its people save those in space. Aristoi are the only people permitted to create nano. Gabriel discovers that a small group of Aristoi have compromised the communications and records of the Logarchy, and have created primitive worlds, worlds with disease and pain and fear, for their own sinister reasons. He battles and vanquishes them, returning the Logarchy to stability.
So Williams has gone from toppling social orders to preserving them, from identifying with the poor rebels to siding with the Gods.