Hardwired takes place in an economically shattered America, one that has gone to war with the orbital corporations and been defeated. The Orbitals have basically taken over America; they have installed ridiculous tariffs on interstate transport to seperate the coasts and make them more dependent and orbital imports. This makes smuggling a highly profitable enterprise, and Cowboy is the best there is.

Sarah is an assassin; she works for the orbitals, gangs, whoever can pay her brother's hospital bills. She takes a job to kill an Orbital's low-level functionary, and the people who hired her want her eliminated. She's forced to go on the run. Michael, Sarah's agent, hires Cowboy to run Sarah cross-country. Eventually, they're stranded, and turn to Cowboy's old friend Reno for help. Reno is a former smuggler himself. Horribly mutilated in an accident, he's now more machine than flesh, but he agrees to help them. When killed by the Orbitals, he escapes into the i-face.

What follows is a tightly plotted conflict between Cowboy and Sarah and their allies (Reno, now drifting through cyberspace; panzerboy and -girl followers of Cowboy; a disgraced and monstrous former Orbital executive)and the Orbital block that wants them dead. The contrast between the white-hat-wearing Cowboy and the rest of the characters and their moral ambiguities is interesting, but this is hardly Williams' most nuanced work; Voice of the Whirlwind covers similar material in a what I feel is a more interesting way. The three-dimensional and complex world of Hardwired is somewhat more interesting than the storyline. Nonetheless, the prose is engrossing if uninspiring--the book is written in the present tense--and the novel seems to have been more influential than its somewhat hackneyed plot might suggest.