Science fiction and fantasy
by David Louis Edelman
Natch's employee Jara isn't always sure what he's planning, and she finds the picky young man annoying at times. But she has 11 months left before her contract matures and she can afford to get out. First though she and Natch's other employees have to deal with their latest releases, a deadly infoquake, and a new technology which will have such an extensive impact that people are willing to kill to suppress it. MultiReal is shrouded in secrecy, but even before it's released it's the centre of a fight for control.
The narration can be quite dry and impersonal early on, when we're presented with a lot of information about the state of the world and its history up to Natch's time. It's an impressively detailed vision of the future. Unfortunately this means there are some heavy infodumps, but as the story progresses these thin out and the book gets livelier.
This is a shiny, corporate, high-tech future. There are space colonies, collapsible buildings, and even teleportation. The world is astonishingly crowded with hyper-connected people, and there's no trace of an energy crisis to dampen the progress of civilisation. It's a world of virtual projections and swarms of people, of endless possibilities and rampant greed. Programming looks a lot like wizardry, with adept practitioners waving wand-like devices and making coloured lights and arcane-looking symbols glow in order to make near-enough magic.
Inevitably there are people who reject all this unnatural technology. The Pharisees are one faction that's violently opposed to using programmes to change the human body, for instance. But they're not the only ones out for blood when MultiReal emerges. The powerful Defense and Wellness Council is gathering its forces, and Natch is increasingly dubious about his involvement in such a controversial project, even though it could make his career.
Infoquake reminds me of Richard Morgan's Takeshi Kovacs novels, without quite as much violence. There's a lot of technology to get your head round, and a lot going on. There's also a cynical edge, with people who find themselves on the wrong side of the divide between rich and poor enjoying few of the benefits of this shiny new future. The people Natch meets are rarely what they seem, and backstabbing does seem to be the normal business practice.
The book comes with around 55 pages of appendices. They're not essential, you can understand what's going on without referring to them. But the length of them does give an indication of the book's depth and imagination. It's one of those novels where the author isn't afraid to ask readers to commit to it and to make the effort to meet him halfway in visualising a very different world from the present one. It's an effort that pays off, thanks to the plucky yet isolated figure of Natch, a viper surrounded by vipers in a world which is both bafflingly advanced yet in some ways tantalisingly medieval.
24th January 2011
If you like this, try:Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan
Cyberpunk body-swapping action.
Otherland : City of Golden Shadow by Tad Williams
The first episode in the Otherland series introduces a world of immersive virtual reality.
Market Forces by Richard Morgan
Chris Faulkner is an executive in a cut-throat corporate world where just getting to work can be a matter of life and death.