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Cyberpunk cops read, or heard, at "Ninth Step Station"

Ninth Step Station is a collaborative creation to be either read, or listened to as a podcast. As a result, it is not so much a book per se, as a collection of episodes written by either Older, Chen, Koyanagi, or Wilde. It is interesting as a concept, and despite the slight differences in style and focus, the episodes/chapters do follow a cohesive line.

Ninth Step Station refers to a police station in futuristic, cyber-rich, post-war fragmented Tokyo. Here, loner Japanese Inspector Miyako Koreda is assigned a collaboration partner from the US Peacekeeping force, Lieutenant Emma Higashi. As they confront espionage, gang-wars, as well as political and social issues, the two women learn from each other. Koreda learns to trust her partner, while Higashi realises why the locals regard the American mission just as suspiciously as they do the Chinese invaders.

This is a very visual cyber-punk narrative, with heavy influences from Phillip K Dick, ‘Akira’, and darker cop television series. Similarly, the authors also use the time and place dystopia to address very present issues, such as technological dependency, interventionism, homophobia, sexism, nationalism, mental health issues, and others.

Who would enjoy this

Ninth Step Station is a dream for those who like ‘Blade Runner’, Sci-Fi anime, and Netflix series, yet are trying new ways of entertainment. The episodes are short enough, and specific enough, for independent reading.

Of course, it will appeal to audiences who enjoy crime fantasy, as well. The read is light enough, both in content and detail, to make it an option for those looking for light fun with a dark tinge.

Lastly, this work could appeal to all ages, but mostly to young adults with a taste for dark novels. Particularly those who are into strong women leads and don’t mind a bit of an international social agenda.

Who should give this a pass

Any reader who dislikes cyber-punk, anime, or Sci-fi would do well giving this a pass. It would be a bit difficult to engage with characters who have undergone surgical modification to ‘enhance’ their abilities, at the very least.

Moreover, I would dissuade those who are easily upset by war stories and confrontation. Despite the shallow approach, the tone is too dark, and the ‘in-your-face’ attitude of some of the characters, while mostly believable within context, comes out too forceful at times.

Finally, I can imagine both American and Chinese patriotic nationals taking some of the matters quite personally. I would actually recommend they read it, but taking it with a pinch of salt and an open mind.

Conclusions and suggestions

Ninth Step Station is a well-executed project, carefully constructed, but still a collection of linked stories with an open ending – a season, not a volume. Modern creation trends are wonderfully trans-media, and this tome reflects just that. It is important to recognise this characteristic in order to evaluate the book accordingly, given that general rules do not apply. For example, length of plot, style, or focus, all fall out of the common parameters. The main parameters of success, in this case, are cohesion and simplification.

The authors, under the leadership of Malka Older, have been very smart in keeping a simple main plotline. By so doing, and by leaving it unburdened with great amount of details, they could attach the episodes, and their individual plots, very successfully, almost seamlessly. It is essential to keep things simple when so many layers of events and characters have to overlap. Of course, that has a double-edge as there is no subsequent weight to any of the items of the agenda Ninth Step Station presents.

Another point for this simplicity, is the use of the narrative itself to explain the (limited) new concepts – whether this be terminology (seku-haru, Kudan, etc.) or elements of the futuristic reality (the modular cars, the sleeves, …). The authors knew the audience had to contend with much information, and wisely limited the extra and novelties. This way, not only are the readers able to get a sense of the genre, but they are also able to identify with the novelty felt by Emma and Hiroko as they confront each other’s world.

My main issues with Ninth Step Station are the sudden, gratuitous goriness of some of the episodes, as unlike most others; and the lack of closure. These are the most obvious consequences of the breaking of parameters I mentioned above, and which most jar with the fact this is presented as a book. Actually, the first one is not that much of a deal breaker, although it messes up the standard 3-Act structure, as they fall outside that line.

The second one, however, is more pernicious. While audiences are willing to wait for new television seasons, readers can get “antsy” about being unfulfilled. The expectation involved in waiting is different, to the point of turning on the author as the audience is left hanging (think Game of Thrones, for a blatant example). Even worse, is the sense of having the cliff-hanger used as a means to ensure future readership. In a book, that is a very delicate balance to handle, and sadly Ninth Step Station does not seem to do it well. The new, open plotline into the next season is rushed, and not enough emotional involvement has taken place.

To summarise, I have more to praise than not in this work, and either way worth learning from. To note:

- Projects, although multi-media, must chiefly abide by their lead format. If the main medium changes (in this case, audio podcast to book form), it should be adapted.

- KISS always works best, though it is flexible: Keep It Short and Simple. Adapt the amount of detail to the needs of your section.

- Respect your audience.

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