Red Spider White Web is not an easy read. It is intense, relentless, dense and dark. Misha’s prose is fragmented, jagged and/or sensuous, and poetic. Her characters are hard, distorted, tormented.
For ten or twenty pages you will wonder where, who, why and almost certainly what the fuck? And suddenly, if you’ve given it the effort, the rhythm takes over.Red Spider White Web is fast, dramatic, vivid and you are inside it, unable to leave without running with it.
Set in what appears to be a run down, polluted, ghettoised future-Japan, RSWW is cyberpunk taken to its most extreme form: a true post-industrial nightmare tribal wasteland. Through this acid-corrupted landscape move two figures, unknowingly circling each other. Kumo, our heroine of sorts, is a digital artist living off her wits in a squat. Tommy is
cyborg, cyber-enhanced, metal-skulled, and a former preacher. In this closed world of 15 minute tailored viral infections, and pirate drugs where synthesis trumps all, someone is killing artists. Kumo’s friend Dori has disappeared too, but not to the killer, but into the faux-Disney reactionary enclave Mickey-san, and she lures fellow artist Motler after her.
To say more would miss the point, Red Spider White Web is a complex novel of broken or divergent strands. When we see through Tommy’s ‘eyes’ as his brain interprets this nightmare world, things get seriously scary
You have shed a leather skin. It hangs. Your face breaks the water and your eyes spin in smokey anger. You glare at each other in the thick night with fickle ripples and yellow fright between us. The twin revolvers of her eyes are leveled at me and he flashes his mesh mask to signal that once again love conquers all. Her full breasts are floating in front of you, but the night masks their features. His metallic vision burns images on your eyes. Ghost gators and spirit sharks slash at your calves as you lunge out of the water. Horror is engraved on his retinas. You are terrified. He closes his eyes and shouts angrily and deliberately. He is delirious with this end to monotony. You are covering her naked face and body as she steps back from my molten fury.
That disorienting, imagistic, furious paragraph is on the first page. Misha traps you or repulses you, no seduction. Fight or flight. Unlike most cyberpunk characters here are true indigenes, no middle-class whiteboy slumming, and their unfamiliarity disturbs, even as their tribal fetishry is superficially familiar. Red Spider White Web is art, about art, dayglo slashes in dark corners and spilled acid etching chrome. Kumo is vulnerable, but she fights off an assault. Tommy is seduced and learns that he has been used. Art is all, Kumo believes, and it is this glowing ember that lights our path through the relentless gloom, only to find a new light and personal acceptance. Artists are as important as art. Greed, corruption, revenge, sordid details almost over-power honour but don’t.
I know many readers who will dislike Red Spider White Web, Misha, who may be more poet than novelist, pulls no punches, makes no concession to soft sensibility. It is not entry level, it has no obvious entry, just a plummeting trapdoor immersion. But for those who don’t fight it, this is an exciting, witty (like a darker version of Richard Kadrey’s Metrophage) short novel you won’t forget.
Fittingly, for a novel about art, the original Morrigan Books edition had gorgeous chapter headings by Don Coyote aka Ferret, and as much as anything Red Spider White Web reminds me of that artist’s disturbingly comic Phoenix Restaurant graphic novel.
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