Neon Nights: A Cyberpunk Detective Thriller by Anna Mocikat is a spin-off of the very popular and engaging Behind Blue Eyes series that has already had a spin-off in the Nephilim: Origins trilogy. Neon Nights can be read as a standalone or introduction to the universe, however. Indeed, I would probably recommend an individual looking to try cyberpunk for the first time to try out Neon Nights first as opposed to Behind Blue Eyes. It is a simple and self-contained story that contains a bunch of classic sci-fi noir plots that can be finished in an afternoon.
The premise is Siro Ferreira-Nunes is a detective recently transferred from his home city of Olympias III (Brazil) to a district of Olympas I (North America). Specifically, Oldtown, which is the former city of Atlanta and now just the Red-Light District of Olympias I. It’s a couple of centuries in the future and most of the planet is under the control of one of three massive megacorporations that rule over country-sized arcologies.
Olympias’ residents are hedonistic materialists who consider monogamy deviant and live under a constant stream of propaganda reassuring them that they live in the most enlightened culture of all time. The novel is less interested in preaching at this Brave New World (*rimshot*) and more about telling a fun story, though.
Siro is assigned a new partner, Kate “Spider” Spader, and she serves as the cynical cowboy cop to his strait-laced idealist. Kate has been working in Oldtown for a very long time and it has largely resigned herself to not making any serious difference. This changes when Siro and Kate are assigned to investigate the death and organ harvesting of a mid-tier celebrity. This leads to them discovering a much-much larger case that involves cybernetics, sex, and the totalitarian government of Olympias.
If this sounds like a classic detective formula, it is and absolutely benefits from the familiarity of the tropes being used alongside a cyberpunk setting. The police are doing the same job they always have but have the dark edginess of being in a corrupt dystopia (that, nevertheless, seems pretty nice if you’re willing to overlook the darker side). We also get some interesting twists on the classic elements with Siro and Kate having a lot of sexual tension but then immediately moving on from it because that’s not this sort of society.
Speaking of sex, this is a very R-rated book with gruesome murders and an uninhibited sleazy society that benefits from remembering cyberpunk used to be edgy. This is a much darker book than the main Behind Blue Eyes series (and that’s hardly PG-13) but benefits for how in-your-face all of the sex, drugs, and violence is. I’ve felt that a lot of cyberpunk has been rather tame since the Nineties and felt more Shadow Run than Altered Carbon. This is much closer to the latter than the former. Still, some people may be put off by the graphic content in the book. Others may feel like it’s a selling point.
I wouldn’t say Neon Nights is grimdark, though, because Siro is about as good as a protagonist as you can have in this sort of sci-fi setting. He wants to do the best job he can possibly do and save some innocent lives if it’s possible. The fact he’s up against an unbelievably corrupt system makes anything he does dubious, though. I appreciate that he understands the necessity of playing office politics and people against one another, though. It makes him easy to root for even as you don’t have to rely on author fiat when he isn’t immediately taken out.
I also really liked Kate and she reminds me of some of my favorite hard edged female characters like early Anita Blake. While it’s 2023 and no longer as uncommon, it’s still nice to also have the hardened cynical cop who only has casual physical relationships be the woman. It’s a role reversal that’s still uncommon. The fact she’s a queer character is also a nice bonus, being an element of her character without being the focus.
In conclusion, Neon Nights is a pretty enjoyable novel and my kind of fiction. I love both detective novels as well as cyberpunk so it’s two great tastes that go great together. It’s also a good starter novel for the genre. Some readers may be put off by the amount of sex and violence, but I feel the sleaze is part of the world-building. This is a self-contained story, but I’d be happy to read a series starring these characters.