13

I read this book back when I was in college, which means I can pinpoint the years to 2002-2004. I also remember quite a lot of detail about it, so I can practically write out the entire story here.

The setting is your usual cyberpunk capitalist dystopian future. The main character is a noir-style detective. As required by such stories, he has an ex-wife, but with the twist that she is a zombie. Because this is a hypercapitalist cyberpunk dystopia, if you die with debts they bring you back as a zombie to work off that debt, which of course you never can because the interest still accrues and zombies don't get paid much.

There is a villain who is some kind of executive in a megacorporation. One section that I remember very clearly demonstrates both how he is a villain and how dystopian the setting is: a homeless person in an alley films the villain doing something and demands money from him for the recording. The villain agrees, with the addition that he wants the homeless person's ID card. The homeless person agrees, and gloats over his money for a second before realizing what he'd done. The villain then shoots him, as without an ID card he is no longer a "person", and takes back his money. And of course, to emphasize how dystopian this all is, a cop watched the whole thing and laughs at how stupid the homeless guy was because that was all legal.

The sex amoeba thing I mentioned is a recurring bit of news that the main character sees throughout the story. Essentially, an orgy will get out of control and people will start merging with each other, drawing more people in when they come into contact. The government or corporations or whatever encourage this, for some reason, and support whatever amoebas form, sectioning off the area and providing like a lubricant kind of thing for the people to live in. Eventually it gets to the point where these things take up entire city blocks and the people in the fluid are just nervous systems, floating around and getting pleasure from interacting with each other. And it's implied that at some point the amoebas tend to run out of new people and essentially wither away.

The main drive of the story is the detective being hired to find someone who has super important MacGuffin information in his head. When he eventually finds the guy, he discovers that he's gotten a "Full Prince Charles". This refers to a phone sex transcript that was released between Prince Charles and Camilla where he said he wanted to be reincarnated as a tampon to live inside her. What the person in the story did was have himself stripped down to just part of his brain and inserted into a woman, essentially living as a fetus inside her permanently.

The payoff of the sex amoeba comes at the end, as the detective confronts the villain on a rooftop above it. There's a big reveal when the detective opens his coat to reveal a ragged hole in his chest, where he put his gun against his heart and pulled the trigger after finding his target. So he's now a zombie, which has some impact on the villain and his plans for a reason I can't quite remember. The detective then kicks the villain off the rooftop into the sex amoeba, where a bunch of nervous system jellyfish things grab him and drag him off into the amoeba, where he will eventually become like them. The zombie detective then goes home to his zombie wife.

It was... quite the interesting story, given that I can remember all these details two decades later, and I'd love to find it again.

1
  • "zombies don't get paid much" Huh... you'd think that with how popular zombies are right now (books, movies, TV, games), that they could demand a better pay scale.
    – FreeMan
    Commented May 20 at 16:06

1 Answer 1

9

Noir (1998) by K. W. Jeter perhaps.

The Goodreads plot and reviews are not very descriptive, but the general trippy idea I get from reading them feels like that could be it, plus the release date matches.

From this review:

The first chapter and even the second are enough of an intellectual fire wall to block out most casual science fiction fans, since it throws so much at the reader with its nightmarish future featuring wage slaves who are reanimated after death to continue working to pay off their debts and its shaky (and somewhat opaque) plot pillar involving synthetic humanoids who track down sought after memories and transfer them via smooches to their owners. Did I mention this book has more overtly sexual metaphors than a Cronenberg film?

[...]

Characters - mostly stock from a hardboiled detective book, but knowing enough that the actual protagonist has eye implants to make the world around him look like a noir film. Maybe I should have made that the litmus test? I dunno.

[...]

Theme - Sex. It's a sex book. Fine, there is also the redemption arc, evils of capitalism and on the converse side a justification of murder in order to protect copyright laws (Jeter did write an essay on why this was a huge part of the book, but I admit to ignorance via laziness), rebirth, memory, identity, and the nature of reality.


Found with the Google query cyberpunk book brought back zombie "pay off" debt which brought up this webpage mentioning:

On the other side, as we approach the end of the life process, we are subjected to ever-greater indignities. K. W. Jeter’s great cyberpunk novel Noir offers us a scenario in which the dead are brought back from the grave as zombies, and compelled to work in order to pay off the debts that they incurred in life. But this is an interminable process. Since interest charges accumulate faster than wages do, the more the zombies work, the more they fall behind, accumulating ever greater debt (Jeter 1998; see my discussion in Shaviro 2003).

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  • Thank you, I'm almost positive this is it! I instantly recognized the cover when I saw it, and the name itself even seemed familiar. That Goodreads review instantly locked it into place, though, with it's mentioning of how the word 'connect' was used to replace 'fuck' (because the internet caused some kind of economic collapse and so 'connecting' is now a bad thing). I wish I'd thought of searching for 'zombies pay off their debts' a lot earlier, I guess the whole sex amoeba thing left such an impression on me I figured it's all anyone would mention about this book. Commented May 19 at 21:49
  • You're welcome, enjoy the re-read! :)
    – Jenayah
    Commented May 19 at 21:51

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