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.
He describes the completion of globalisation through the internal (outsourced) workings of the Justice Department; while in the wider social detail, he's swapped out the privileged West and replaced it with Indian and Brazilian middle classes, while the UK domestic jobs market is based in the gig economy where almost everyone is a subcontrator? Sound familiar? That's because it's where we're predicted to be in the next few decades.
Every sociological nightmare is smacked into Airedale: deskilling of workers due to technology; loss of unionisation of workers; a New Democracy that is democracy in name alone. 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, he's convinced it's murder. But who, and why?
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