I read a story recently that blew me away, and I don’t use that phrase lightly. I actually sat back after finishing it and said, “Wow!” out loud. The story, or novella to be accurate, is called Coolhunting and it will come as no surprise that it is by my favourite author, Kristine Kathryn Rusch. It is a part of a collection called ‘Five Short Novels’ that I bought from the iTunes book shop some time ago, but have only just gotten around to reading.
It begins with the story’s protagonist, Steffie, doing what she does best – coolhunting. The opening scene is skilfully written to, not only to introduce you to Steffie but also explain what coolhunting is all about. It reminded me of William Gibson’s novel Pattern Recognition, and Steffie strongly reminded me of Gibson’s character, ‘Cayce Pollard’. Their style is similar, they do similar work, and both appear to be loners, outside the norm. However, although I read Pattern Recognition first, it was published in 2003, whereas Coolhunting was first published in ‘Science Fiction Age’, July, 1998. Whether or not Gibson got some inspiration from Rusch’s story, I can’t tell you, but I enjoyed making the comparison.
Though the characters, Steffie & Cayce, are similar and what they do for a living is similar, the stories are completely different. Much to my enjoyment!
This is the first Kristine Kathryn Rusch story I’ve read that I immediately identified as ‘cyber-punk’ (although there are many cyber-punk elements in her Retrieval Artist series), which immediately made me dive into the story. The core of this story is buried under layers, and as she reveals each layer you are immersed more and more into the not-to-distant future universe she’s created. So much so, that it wasn’t until after I read the story and was reflecting on it later, that the true horror of KD’s situation (Steffie’s sister) really set in.
What happens to KD is so horrendous; you wonder how it was allowed to happen. How could people do something like that? It speaks toward the society the characters live in and, I realise as I write this, that it has as much to say about listening to, and conforming to the wills and whims of society rather than thinking for yourself. Much like Ray Bradbury’s classic Fahrenheit 451.
I have deliberately not explained what coolhunting entails in this futuristic world (though if you’ve read Pattern Recognition, you may have some idea) or explained what KD’s situation is, as I feel it will detract from the experience of reading this story if you know these things before hand.
This is a rich immersive story that draws you in and takes you on tangents you don’t expect. I have read many of Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s works, (including many written under her pen names), and, out of a mountain of great works, this is my stand out favourite to date. I would dearly, dearly love to see this expanded into a full novel if she hasn’t already done so.
As of this writing, ‘Five Short Novels’ by Kristine Kathryn Rusch is still available from the iTunes book shop so please look it up. And don’t forget, Coolhunting is only one of the five stories on offer, so there’s four other excellent tales in there for you to enjoy.