The sub-genre of cyberpunk has a subtextual critique ofadvanced Capitalism. It is usually set in dystopian future, full ofcorporate monopolies, laissez-faire economics and huge gulfs between rich and poor. For all that, most of the novels in this genre concern the disaffected middle-class. Stephenson's Snow Crash, for all its unique characters not often seen in science fiction (a black-asian hero and a young teenaged girl) were well enough connected in their world to be aware of and stop a massive conspiracy. And Gibson's classic Neuromancer added glamour and menace to the mostly white male world of computer hacking.
Misha's novel, first published in 1990, takes on a cyberpunk environment from the viewpoint the disenfranchised, eschewing the high-tech gadgetry usually a part of the genre.
It's set in Dek Tek, a crime-ridden diseased suburb of the posh and exclusive city Mickey-San. Deadly gases permeate the air, forcing the residents to don masks. Brutal gangs of teenagers from Mickey-san, called the Pinks, prowl the streets of Ded Tek, looking for victims to bash or rape. Renegade groups of Zombies, practitioners of a Santeria hybrid religion also hunt for people for their ritual cannibalism. The novel follows a group of artists who try to eke out a living in this toxic environment. The main character is the tough-as-nails holographic artist Kumo. She is devoted to the purity of her art to a fault. She makes unfortunate enemies with Dori and Motler, who intend to sell-out and become corporate artists for Mickey-san. Her friends are the mostly spineless Jujube and the hermaphroditic David, who don't want to sell out, but spend most of their time avoiding both the cops and the criminals; in short, they are tied up in the business of survival. Finally, there is Tommy, a Warhol-like figure who plays on both sides of the coin-he's both an underground artist and a beloved icon of Mickey-san. He's even gained god status among a fascistic Christian sect. Looming over them all is a new horrifying development: a mysterious serial killer is eviscerating all of the artists in Dek Tek, one by one.
Misha's writing is rich and parodic. Her action sequences are highly visual and move swiftly. A particularly wonderful scene involves a description of the candyland-like corporate Mickey-san, where control underlies the soulless beauty of the city. She alternates a strong, straightforward prose style with stream-of-conscious poetic sections that are in the point of view of the artist-killer.
"She is dancing, a beautiful orchid in ballet pink, her frills gray with grime, droplets of dew run down her face, the missing track lights leave her elegant dance for lonely shadows...I am wrapping her white neck with the throat of a dying swan, and she is still, waiting to dance, to dance again as I am lifting her, her leap of silence into clouds from years of molting feathers from a broken lawn flamingo once again a silent pink swan."
The writing is a wonderful mix of fragility and violence, kind of a cross between Janet Frame and William S. Burroughs. The density of the writing, and Misha's interior monologues can be confusing. The characters frequently speak in untranslated Japanese and there are unexplained terms. But Red Spider, White Web is none the less, a compelling read. The novel's theme-about integrity in the face of harsh situations-comes through.