No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Sunday, October 29, 2006

#96: Keeping It Real -- Justina Robson

The first in a new series (Quantum Gravity), which I believe the author's said she wrote for fun. It shows -- which is not to say that it's slipshod or structurally or thematically lazy. I expect it'll be called 'self-indulgent', and yes, to some extent it is: but why shouldn't a writer do what she's good at and enjoys?

It's 2021, six years after the Quantum Bomb that changed everything. There are six realities, the human world (Otopia, nee Earth) being only one of them. The others include a realm populated by Elementals; Alfheim, where the Elves live, which has implemented an exclusionary policy for a year; Demonia (demons); Thanatopia (the dead); and Faery, which has been issuing tourist visas for three years.

That's Common Knowledge, outlined in the prologue. Robson sets out to illustrate the multiverse she's created by introducing Lila Black, half-cyborg (and half AI) after an unpleasant event in Alfheim, to the decadent and backstabbing world of the elves. Lila (another cyborg-woman with self-image problems, but somewhat more mature than Robson's earliest protagonists) becomes bodyguard to Zal, elvish lead singer of new rock sensation The No Shows. ("Elves don't rock," claims someone early in the novel. Zal is the epitome of rock. Though he's pretty sick of the lembas jokes and Tolkien references.)

It shouldn't come as any surprise to readers of Robson's earlier novels to hear that there's excitement and adventure and really wild things. I can't think of a contemporary writer who produces such cinematically vivid images -- not just action scenes but the literary equivalent of long-range panning shots that give context. And of course there's a lot of music, and Faerie vocalists in extravagant make-up, and duplicitous Elves, and a sense of Game that comes straight out of all those old ballads about Elves versus Mortals.

Oh, and according to the Elves, there have always been six realms: it's not a recent thing. All those ballads? Accurate historical reportage.

There are a few places where I felt more editing would have helped -- apparent mistakes such as 'filial' for 'fraternal'; over-dense info-dumps -- but Robson's prose is hip and sharp and admirably suited to her subject. Given the subject matter, I was surprised at how very different the novel felt to the Bordertown books.

Also, good use of fonts for the various races: the difference between speakers is visually as well as verbally striking. And some gloriously measured prose:
Elfheart machine-woman and demonheart elf-man. Walking four worlds inside the forfeit bond. Sing the two, eight, eighteen canticle, the shape of things, the weird of breaths, the soft hand in hand dance, and, as all water is one across the worlds and sings each to each unbroken the lowest notes of sweet lament, we shall bend our mind to thy curious measure.

Read that aloud: gorgeous.

This is patently the first in a series -- Lila's backstory is gradually, though not entirely, revealed as the novel progresses, while Zal's intriguing family background is not yet fully explained. I'm looking forward to the next in the sequence. The Quantum Gravity books, despite their sfnal scenario, cross genres (fantasy, romance, crime), and the playfulness conceals considerable depth. Not as deep, as weighty, as philosophical as Living Next Door to the God of Love, but in some respects an even more exhilirating ride.

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