These days, you can't believe everything you see. Anyone with a computer can manipulate an image or string of words in order to change the information conveyed. Want to make the people (at least some of the people) believe that Al Gore can do a mean merengue? Just slap his head on Ricky Martin's body, add some convincing text, and you'll convince the gullible that the veep is a dancing machine, even though common sense tells you otherwise.
Of course, you never really could trust every last word or image that made it to print; even in Gutenberg's time factual slip-ups crept onto the printed page. But with the rise of the Internet and the speed at which pseudo-data can now travel, misinformation permeates most corners of the globe with frightening speed. Melissa Scott's The Jazz goes one step further than where we are now--as all good speculative fiction should--and takes us to a world where hackers spin marvelous "jazz" (read: fiction) that the public wholeheartedly believes. From fake fad diets based on chakras (energy points) to clandestine fairy tales about public figures, Scott's Net is full of jazz, proving that anything found online should be scrupulously interpreted.
Enter Tin Lizzy, a jazz spinner for one of the bigger sites, and Keyz, a young, suburban computer wiz who hacks into his parents' employer's mainframe and ends up in hot water. Keyz turns to Lizzy for help, and the two begin a road trip across Scott's just barely futuristic landscape. Chasing this duo are a dangerously crazed CEO and a couple of disgruntled rent-a-cops. Tin Lizzy has been burned by this particular CEO before and will do anything to save Keyz from his clutches.
Scott takes this fairly predictable storyline and fills it out with eye-catching details, such as old offshore oil rigs used as luxury housing. Her prose is skillful and efficient, always providing enough detail without ever really being evocative or consciously stylish. And this is what we've come to expect from Scott (Trouble and Her Friends, Shadow Man) and her brand of cyberpunk-with-a-feminist-twist sci-fi.
But in The Jazz, it falls flat. We've seen Tin Lizzy's type--the strong, shady bisexual with a hidden past--a time or two before in Scott's work, and the character hasn't progressed. Keyz becomes nothing more than a plot twist that Scott lugs through the story, giving him some scant dialogue in the novel's second half, seemingly so that the reader doesn't get worried about what's become of him. If Scott had spent as much time developing the "jazz" of the people in The Jazz, even the most skeptical reader would have bought into the web she was spinning.