This story reminds me of the kind of pieces that turn up in the "Probability Zero" section of Analog. It starts a little dry, rather like the scotch in question, I suppose, but has a smooth finish with no lingering nasty aftertaste.
FATE'S MIRROR by M.H. Mead is a fun read full of cyberpunky goodness. Morris is a hacker supreme (called a viker in this book), who is recruited by the NSA to hunt and destroy three powerful Electronic Consciousnesses. Should he fail, they will trigger a worldwide electromagnetic pulse to ensure the AIs' destruction. It sounds a little far-fetched, but then this IS cyberpunk. The battle scenes between Morris and the AIs are couched like eighteenth-century naval battles, with cannonades between ships and boarding parties. I thought there was a little too much wandering between narrative point-of-views, although I did enjoy the creative glimpses of the AIs' POV. Morris isn't the most likeable character in the world, but as I said before, this IS cyberpunk. The action is written well, the manuscript is free of errors, and it's a fast read.
This is another tale set in the same universe and featuring the same characters as Mead's previous work FATE'S MIRROR, which I've also read. In comparison to that work, THE CALINE CONSPIRACY is a much better book in my opinion. The character of Aidra, who is only a secondary character in Fate's Mirror, is a more appealing lead than Morris the hacker, and I found myself identifying with her right away. The story moves along at a brisk pace, peppered with cinematic action sequences. The book as a whole reads like a 90-minute detective/action movie. There's a definite twist that I didn't see coming, and it tied the plot up very nicely. My only complaint is that it was a fast read in the sense that most of the characters besides Aidra are undeveloped beyond talking scenery, and a few of the subplots which are begun are left virtually unexplored. Genetic manipulation makes for some fascinating and scary science fiction, and I felt there were some more opportunities to expand upon the horrors that man might create with it. The book would have benefited by adding some depth to the setting and minor characters. That being said, it was an enjoyable beer-and-pretzels read, and an admirable sophomoric effort. I'm looking forward to further adventures in M.H. Mead's near-future Detroit.