Airedale by Dylan Byford is a gritty cyberpunk thriller of the hard-knocks variety, where the ratty little geezer trying to solve the crime is knocked back, sacked, kicked, tranq’ed, shot, and literally hauls himself out of the sewer to try to finish the job. And it’s thoroughly realistic.
In essence: Airedale by Dylan Byford
When a flyer – a human dressed in a suit that enables them to fly – is knocked from the sky, Haz Edmundson, Justice Analyst, takes the bit between his teeth and risks his job, family, and life to prove that it was a murder. But not the kind of murder that’s ever been proven before. Around him is the New Democracy, where every action, every face, and every human event is videoed, recorded, ratio’d and available for business, justice and personal use. People are free to protest their poverty and their dissatisfaction with the world, and in the megacity of Airedale, wave after wave of riots are bringing down the reputation of the region – a smartdart in the arse of the aspirations of local politicians and businessmen alike. Haz’s determination to accuse the ‘wrong ‘uns’ and prove his case costs him nearly everything that matters in his shambolic life, but the case that he builds is bigger than anything that’s ever been seen before – and it’s one that could easily be seen as a prediction as our world shuffles ever nearer to the dystopia he’s living in.
The Age of the decaying Megacity
As a social commentary, Airedale hits right on the nose. Byford has extrapolated the things that are happening here and now in the UK and has created the monster ahead of time. And a monster it surely is. What’s more, he’s looked further afield, at how industrial and economic development is playing out globally, and his predictions are difficult to dismiss.
For example, with the Justice division, instead of local teams, privatised global teams are available, depending on the work and the time of day. Bermuda is five hours behind, so they get the late night pathology gig. Information Governance is based in Eastern Turkey, with explainer vidz for its continual changes made by some geek in Vancouver. Globalisation is complete.
Within the wider social detail, Byford’s swapped out the privileged West and replaced it with a privileged India, Brazil and PRC. Factory ownership, middle class jobs – these are largely held by Indian and Brazilian middle classes, while the UK domestic jobs market is based in the gig economy where almost everyone is a subcontractor.
Then as now, subcontracting of this nature treats everyone like impermanent employees – no workers’ rights or real freedom, but the impression of being your own boss. There’s no job security, no certainty and no obvious social mobility.
Professionals have been deskilled by technology – and have new digital operation skills to replace them, but the job roles themselves are clearly not what they once were. Forensics, for example. The Forensics Analyst, Carrie, sets her little evidence collecting device, the gecko, to speed around the scene of a death, and then they wait:
“A forensics analyst had little to do at this point, so she cracked open a packet of menthol sniffs and stuck one up each nostril.”
Rich owners and businesses are safe from unionisation because employees are individual subcontractors, and the only organisation of any groups is with the rioters and their networks, and Enforcement. The presence of riots means talking hasn’t changed the social situation for the better. So politics has failed, despite the so-called New Democracy. A dubious name for sure. Is it even a true democracy? Hard to tell, and Haz wouldn’t know the difference. In fact, the New Democracy seems to suit those who benefit from it, while those who don’t are either distracted in trying to keep it all together, or just plain angry. The people in general are not necessarily happy, but not fully aware of their own oppression. Satisfied to buy the latest gear, watch the latest vidz, go to work, go home, and call that living. All familiar stuff, but so much more extreme.
Haz’s understanding of what is going on politically is limited, something to be expected given he is struggling to survive, and the point is, he’s representative of ‘most people’ – the grafters, ordinary folks eking out a living:
‘I stood still with a neutral expression. I was never sure what a capitalist was. I’d missed that part of school, I think. It was something the New Democracy was supposed to have solved.’
Capitalism has divided and conquered through individualism, consumerism and desperation, hiding behind the New Democracy, pretending to have been vanquished when really it is its opponents that have been destroyed.
In the background, delivered through Haz’s noir-style matter-of-fact narration, are hints to the calamitous state of education, social division, and the de-gentrification of a megacity that is decaying even as its politicians strive to drag it back up by its bootstraps.
One of my favourite paragraphs is almost the only direct mention of the messages being delivered by education:
“Not everyone can fly … That’d been the moral of a story I could still remember from primary school. It’d been a story about a flyer and a fat kid … The fat kid had to learn that he’d simply never be able to fly. It was supposed to teach you that, although everything was theoretically possible, you might find life easier if you managed your expectations a little.”
Haz’s world view, the background of the story he tells, is based in his life experiences, where life is tough, good times are worth remembering, and all that matters is survival. He might be short of the bigger picture in terms of politics, but when he pulls it all together, it’s far bigger than anyone else has even thought of.
Will you love it?
Addicted to crime thrillers? Love science fiction? Like to dabble in cyberpunk? This one’s a winner. The murder mystery develops in fits and starts, thanks to Haz’s haphazard functioning and the barriers placed in his way by managers and shadowy ‘others’ alike. Along with Haz, blow by blow, you navigate the endless drones, bureaucratic blockages, the data hoovering and lack of privacy, and the clues held behind data access codes. Every time I re-read sections of this book, or think about it a little further, I’m wowed again by how clever it is. Byford has thought of everything, and the detail is phenomenal.
The first third of Airedale involves intense descriptions of Byford’s cyber reality. You learn how everything works, some of the background for Haz’s crappy life story, as well as his state of mind, and you get the story set up. From that point onwards, the story flies itself – and it is fun and awful, gross and clever – and real.
A lot of writers find dialogue hard to write. Accent can be hard to read and write, so while Byford has stayed away from that, he’s replaced it with the accurate idiosyncrasies of West Yorkshire language, and for Airedale this is the icing on the cake for the character development. You can hear their voices clearly. And again, this colours in the lines and makes it real.
If you’re a vegan, I probably wouldn’t recommend it. There are a LOT of meat vats.
by Dylan Byford
When Justice Analyst, Haz Edmundson, discovers the body of an activist who has crashed through a warehouse roof cocooned in a wingsuit, her head shattered by a mysterious mid-air impact, he's convinced it's murder. But who, and why?
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