Review: “The Hammer Falls,” Travis Heermann

Rating: 5 out of 5

When I was a teen in the 80s I was totally addicted to cyberpunk. It’s been a while, but I just read Travis Heermann’s The Hammer Falls and loved it.

You’ll certainly recognize a lot of the cyberpunk staples in here: mega-corps that blur the line between company policy and governmental law, vibro-blades and other cool weaponry, implants and cybernetics, resurrections, crime syndicates, characters on the run, drones, AIs, and a dystopian future in which people kill each other in the pits for money.

About that pit-fighting, though. It’s become a huge corporate thing, worth tons of money. It’s really a performance, and relies as much on the fighters’ charisma and presence as it does on their physical prowess. Part of the reason why the killing people part works so well is because one corporation has the technology to bring people back to life. Probably. Most of the time, anyway. In fact, after each death odds are given on the chances of resurrection and bets are placed.

Horace “The Hammer” Harkness is a legend who’s down on his luck. He took time off at the height of his career to unsuccessfully track down his ex-girlfriend and their son, and ended up back in the minor leagues. He’s got one more chance, though, if he doesn’t blow it. He’s borrowed money from a Russian loan shark so he can do what he needs to take part in one last big-time fight against The Freak, who is both friend and rival. Even if he loses he’ll be able to pay off the loan, but if he wins he’ll also be able to afford a new heart–which he really needs. But when he decides to use the money to pay for his favorite stripper’s son’s medical bills, he unwittingly touches off a war. He kills the loan shark, only to find out the hard way that the man was a much bigger deal than he let on. Now mafias and corporations alike are hunting Horace, and he hides away with an old friend and his travelling small-time band of fighters.

Horace is a great well-meaning protagonist who manages to do all the wrong things while trying to do all the right things. I mean sure, Lilly’s son will live despite his medical problems now, but Horace’s enemies will undoubtedly go after Lilly and her kids to get to Horace. While Horace falls in with his old acquaintance Trask, who knows the Russians are after him, he doesn’t realize the kinds of consequences that could have not just for Trask, but for all of Trask’s workers and fighters. It takes him a while to realize just what he’s up against, but that actually makes sense in this story.

Class disparity has gotten even worse in this future, with your average laborer unable to afford any kind of medical coverage, and miraculous cures being reserved for the folks with millions. The characters along the way are great, whether they’re other pit fighters, mafia folks, hackers (in this book they’re called slicers), strippers, and so forth. The book is substantial, and there’s plenty of fascinating detail. I totally recommend this one to fans of cyberpunk.

Content note for the kind of gore you’d expect from pit-fighting and very angry mafia people. Also a little sex.

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