Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Cannonball Read II, book 3: Keeping it Real by Justina Robson

This is the first in the ‘Quantum Gravity’ series. The premise is that in 2015, a large Hedron collider impersonated Chernobyl, and now there’s about 7 different realities all intersecting one another. And they’ve always done this, or something. There’s a lot of confusion about ‘before the quantum bomb’ and ‘after the quantum bomb’. Come to think of it, there’s just a lot of confusion.

Lila Black is 21 and works for Earth (Otopia)’s spy agency. She got torn apart by an elve, and through a bit of magical technological fiddling, they turned her into the 6 million dollar woman. Only with a lot more weapons. The book opens on the day she starts her first assignment since being rebuilt, to protect an elven pop star who’s been getting a lot of hatemail from, oh, about four dimensions. She doesn’t quite succeed, and she has to follow his kidnappers into the elven reality to rescue him. There’s a lot of political manoeuvring in the elve dimension, some philosophising about knowledge and power, the bad guy is actually a good guy, Lila is possessed by an elven necromancer who used to have a thing with the bad-guy-actually-a-good-guy, and there’s some sort of Game between her and the elven popstar.

It’s a very complicated book. Probably too complicated, because I spent so much time trying to work out what the hell was going on that I found it impossible to be dragged into the story. Books have always been my escape hatch, I get grumpy when it doesn’t take me anywhere. There’s a lot of plot holes and dropped threads, but I gather this is going to be a series, so, presumably, the holes will be filled and the threads picked up in latter books. It also suffers from what I call ‘Laurel K. Hamilton syndrome’. See, I have a way of scoring the quality of a movie by the number of unnecessary tit-baring. I have a theory that the makers are just throwing those tits in as a distraction, or to make them appear edgy, because they’re either lazy or not talented enough to make a good film. I see more than one set of unnecessary tits, I know I have to decide to switch off my brain or the movie. ‘Laurel K. Hamilton syndrome’ is the book version. Toss in a sex scene with a hottie, under the most flimsy of pretexts. If you've ever read anything she's written in the last ten years, you'll know what I'm talking about. It tends to show up a lot in science fiction/fantasy books with a female lead, and a female writer, and I always find it distracting. I’ve no objection to a bit of romance with all that technology, but I hate it when the main character fucks one hot guy after another under that flimsy pretext of ‘it’s the hot guy’s culture/power source/whatever’.

I really liked the characters, Lila, all fire and insecurity about her appearance, and Zal, so passionate and brilliant, but so naive; and I think it had a lot of potential. But the author has tried to cram too much in, and complicate everything. Things like the Game, which has a role later in the book, but felt so unnecessary. Science fiction is at its best when the human characters are still bound by recognisable human reactions and motivations, despite the unusual setting. Justina didn’t need a Game with a special capital letter, she could have just given the characters a bit more time and a lot more flirting (which was one of the best parts of the book), and helped us fall in love with them while they fell in love with each other. Presumably, even power-mad rulers would recognise the usefulness of love in manipulating an adversary.

I’d recommend this book to a lover of science fiction, but not a person unfamiliar with the genre.
I think you’d need to be in the ‘zone’ to truly enjoy this book, able to fill in the gaps with your own past experience. In a lot of ways, this book is very much like it’s main character - a clever merging of magical and biological and scientific, sexy and smart, but not entirely comfortable with itself and or put together quite as well as it was aiming to be.


  1. Hmmmmm, while your review is less than stellar, the premis sounds intriguing. I may have to check this one out. I also have an issue with your boobie-hate but we'll discuss that later.

  2. Funnily enough, I remember thinking 'Admin would probably like this book' while I was reading it. Like I said, I think I'd have enjoyed it more if it hadn't been so long since I've read true science fiction. Or maybe I'm just too dumb/lazy to keep up. And I forgot to mention, it DID manage to keep me distracted from my rioting internal organs during a flight, which was no small feat.

    *g* I don't hate boobies! I just feel sorry for the ones that seem a bit exploited. But from now on, I'm calling my theory 'The Boobie Barometer'. ;)