Spirits in the Wires
by Charles de Lint
Tor, 2003, ISBN 0-312-87398-0
A book review by Elisabeth Carey
This is another Newford nove l, taking some the least technologically-inclined of the loose Newford network of friends and aquaintances into the internet. Literally into the net--some of them get involuntarily uploaded, and others follow in the hope of rescuing them.
Aaran Goldstein, book editor for the local newspaper and mild pain in neck to Christy Riddle, Saskia Madding, and others of literary bent in our old familiar crowd, hits upon a relatively harmless means of revenge upon Saskia for the offense of having realized almost imme diately what a jerk and a loser he is. He blackmails one of the I.T. staff at the paper into uploading a virus that will temporarily take down the Wordwood website, so beloved of Saskia and her friends. Unfortunately, the damage isn't as temporary or as limited as intended. The Wordwood hasn't been a normal website for quite a while now--it vanished from the machines that originally hosted it, and started doing things its original creators couldn't explain. So when Jackson Hart's virus takes it down, they have no idea how to get it back up. And when Jackson is overcome by the moral doubts that had plagued him from the beginning, and emails the webmaster at the Wordwood instructions on how to recover from the virus, the real trouble starts, as the Wordwood res ponds by aggressively uploading hundreds of people, whose disappearances naturally alarm and disturb even more people. Jackson's among the uploaded.
So is Saskia Madding.
Except that, while all the other uploaded go directly to the Wordwood website, Saskia manages to resist effectively enough to reach Christy's "shadow," Christiana, who was born from the parts of Christy that he discarded when he was seven. Saskia and Christiana have recently been discussing whether they are "real" or not--Christiana, of course, because she's a shadow, and Saskia because, as far as she can tell, she was born in the Wordwood. She has a paper trail showing a fairly normal life going back to a normal birth, but her real, substantial memories go back only a few years, to shortly before she met Aaran Goldstein, and Christy, and the others. When she resists the Wordwood spirit that's trying to reclaim her, she reaches Christiana on her borderlands-capable cellphone, and enters Christiana\rquote s head. For most of the remainder of the book, they are literally inseparable.
Christy, Geordie, Holly, and others (including, eventually, a somewhat chastened Aaran Goldstein), search for a solution and conclude that they need to go to the spiritworld, where the Wordwood is apparently located now, and cure the virus there in order to get their missing friends back. Along the way, they encounter hellhounds and other dangers of the spiritworld. Christiana, Saskia, and eventually Jackson Hart, head for the heart of the Wordwood, also to tackle the vi rus. Along the way, they find a Disneyesque Sleeping Beauty coffin, displaying, rather alarmingly, Saskia's unoccupied body. They also find Librarius, formerly a servant of the being that controlled the Wordwood, now in rebellion against it. The virus gave him his opportunity, and he's not interested in any solutions that don't leave him in charge.
There are some oddities in the story. On the detail level, it seems odd, even with this relatively non-techie crowd, that no one except Jackson Hart has a either DSL or a cable modem. On the story level, Librarius' vengefulness towards the people responsible for the virus that gave him his shot at taking control of the Wordwood doesn't quite make sense. Nevertheless, it's an enjoyable visit with the Newford crowd.