Picks and Pans Review: Arachne

updated 06/11/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/11/1990 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Lisa Mason

The novels of William Gibson, the father of the so-called cyberpunk school of science fiction, are so original and compelling, it was inevitable that they would be imitated. And Mason's first novel is an entertaining knockoff of Gibson's grim vision of our future.

The similarities are obvious. While Gibson writes of the "grid," a mammoth, multidimensional data network that computer cowboys "jack" into, Mason has created something called "telespace," with which mechanically modified humans "link." Other common elements are powerful designer drugs and machines with artificial intelligence.

Mason works with these borrowed concepts, however, in an imaginative setting that is distinctively her own. Her story takes place in the Bay Area 35 years after Big Quake II, when the thundering San Andreas River runs all the way to the Palo Alto Falls. Offshore from the People's Republic of Berkeley lies San Francisco Island. Bands of spear-carrying aborigines—the newest variation on teen rebellion—roam permanently gridlocked streets, waylaying pedestrians.

The heroine, Carly Nolan, is a genetically engineered woman and junior associate for a legal megafirm in the city. Complicating her practice of law rather dramatically is the fact that when she links into telespace she is haunted by the chimera of a giant spider (hence the title).

Mason's handling of the technical and futuristic details is quite strong, far stronger than her plot, which at times is plodding. (Morrow, $19.95)

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