The reading of this book completes the project I set out upon about three years back: to read all the books mentioned on this io9 list of the "Top 10 Greatest Science Fiction Detective Novels Of All Time". To recap: two I had already read, and considered reasonably decent. My results for the next seven: not bad; mediocre; not my cup of tea; meh; hated it; pretty good; another clunker. So my hopes weren't that high for Tea From an Empty Cup. You might say—(taking off sunglasses)—I suspected it (also) might not be my cup of tea. But, while not great, it wasn't bad.
It's set in a near future where video games have morphed into full-fledged Artificial Reality (AR); players don "hotsuits" which take over their sensory inputs and get dropped into scenarios of their choosing. Sort of a Matrix deal, except that the participants know what they're seeing isn't real.
So if you die in AR, it's no biggie. Except a number of players are winding up dead in Actual Reality too, and having kicked the bucket in disturbingly similar ways to their virtual counterparts. Female police detective Konstantin is on the case; she decides she must invade AR-land to investigate fully.
In a parallel thread, Yuki is in search of missing boyfriend Tom; she has heard that Tom was seen in the company of the mysterious Joy Flower. Unexpectedly, Joy Flower offers to hire Yuki as a personal assistant; Yuki accepts in order to further her search. Pretty soon she finds herself in AR too.
AR is kind of a cyber-Wonderland, Yuki and Konstantin playing the mutual role of Alice. They meet up with all sorts of bizarre characters, nightmarish situations, and dreadful jokes. (When Konstantin encounters a building entrance guarded by two werewolves, her escort remarks: "Well, their hair is perfect." Moan.) And commercialism is a running joke: you can always spend more money to improve your AR experience, and you keep getting nagged about it.
I can only take so much loopiness though. In an anything-goes, anything-can-happen AR, not much actually matters. Didn't care much about the characters or the outcome.