QSFer Nell G Williams has a new lesbian cyberpunk book out: “Dreams in Digital.”
Post-collapse Seattle, 2068: Jill is a Dreamrunner, an elite hacker who uses the speed and intuition of her subconscious mind to pull off devastating Runs on corporate servers. But while other Runners tie their code and dreams together with scenes of battle or abstract puzzles, Jill’s dreams are of seduction. With deft touches and a few choice whispers, she turns megacorp systems into willing lovers, plying them for secrets.
But when she stumbles onto a mysterious data package, she suddenly finds herself embroiled in a cat and mouse game that threatens her very life. On the run from a conspiracy that grows darker at every turn, can she dream her way out?
Equal parts lesbian fantasy and sci-fi suspense, Dreams in Digital is a fast-paced erotic thriller, a glimpse into a future where the lines between dreams and reality blur.
The alley vanished, and a clamorous surge of chatting, laughing voices thundered in my ears as the brick walls around me stretched and twisted into the interior of a crowded bar. The dirty and crumbling bricks were now clean and fashionably worn, and a babbling crush of people mingled and flirted under the low electric light of faux-rustic chandeliers. Rows of bottles lined the wall behind a bar of glossy, dark brown wood, their labels blurry and indistinct in the dreamlight. The faces around me were likewise only partial, hazy silhouettes, each one a flash of color, a burst of sound, a half-felt presence. This was what a dream looked like without sufficient prep. I hadn’t dared to do the usual amount of priming, so with only a few days’ hypno and media to set the scene in my mind, the side details were nebulous and fluid. I did my best not to get distracted.
The faceless throng pressed and crowded me, cutting off my path to the bar. I’d entered the Maze. I navigated my way through the crush, avoiding the gauntlet of elbows and drinks, aiming for the narrow gaps between bodies. When I finally reached the bar, the bartender was a vague shade of a person, but the cocktail they placed on the bar in front of me seemed real enough. Taking the stem of the glass in hand, I sipped the drink, which was strong and fruity and garnished with a cherry, and looked myself over in the wide mirror behind the bar.
My Presence was distinctive in its indistinctiveness, as if you’d put every woman my age in NorPac through an averaging composite. Chestnut brown eyes looked back at me from an oval face with a slightly dusky complexion that could have had roots on any continent. My hair was straight and brown, with tawny highlights close to the same shade as my skin. Dark blue jeans fit snugly over generous hips, and I wore a loose wine-colored top that bared my shoulders.
I sat sipping my drink amid the babble of the mob for an uncertain stretch of dream-time, until a sudden blast of cool air signaled the door opening, and I looked over my shoulder to see her enter the bar.
She would have been hard to pick out if she hadn’t been the only person in the bar with defined features and solid edges, bundled up as she was in a grey pea coat and with her hair stuffed into a fuzzy black cap. But when she hung her hat and coat up on a rack, releasing a fountain of coppery-red curls, she was transformed, and I was transfixed. How could I have ever thought she blended in anywhere? The mob parted before her as she made her way to the bar, her boots tapping out her steps even over the din of the crowd. She wore a cable knit sweater dress with a loose cowl neck over winter leggings, a wide leather belt around her narrow waist. She settled onto the barstool next to me, its previous occupant having somehow disappeared, and smiled at the bartender.
She ordered a short glass of something amber-colored and sniffed it thoughtfully, a bemused smile on her face. Naturally, my partners in my dreams tended to be attractive, but she… she was stunning. With time pressing on my mind, I hadn’t prepped any particular appearance for her. Instead I sat next to a fantasy cut whole-cloth from my subconscious desires. I’d created this dream, but still my heart fluttered with nerves.
I gathered my courage and leaned slightly toward her to ensure she could hear me over the noise of the other patrons. “I never cared for the stuff you have to smell first,” I ventured. “The better it smells, the worse it tastes.”
Green cat eyes blinked at me over the rim of her glass, and she took a deliberate sip. “Some might say it’s an acquired taste,” she replied slowly. Her face was pale cream ornamented with a constellation of freckles, her cheeks still flushed from the cold outside, and her wide lips turned upward at the corners. “I suppose you prefer the sweet stuff?”
Her voice was as rich and warm and biting as the whisky in her tumbler. I smiled in return. “Who doesn’t like something sweet now and then?” I raised my glass and took a swallow. She laughed.
“Every now and then,” she agreed, and grinned.
I wrote “Dreams in Digital” during the slow shifts working as a university librarian after becoming fixated on the way hacking is always portrayed in media as a gamey, arcade-like experience. When you’re persuading, cajoling, convincing a system to do what you want, to give up its most intimate secrets, why shouldn’t that be more like a seduction?