(2006) Justina Robson, Gollancz, £10.99, trdpbk, 279 pp, ISBN 0-575-07862-6
In 2015 a 'Quantum Bomb' shatters the fabric of reality and opens the gates between different realms, subtly altering the histories of those realms. The realm of everyday Earth becomes known as Otopia and gates open to the elven realm of Alfheim, the demon realm of Demonia, the elemental realm of Zoomenon, and the realms of Thanatopia and Faery. There is speculation about a seventh realm and all realms appear to be embedded in Interstitial Space, also known as the Aetherstream. Relations between the realms are, to say the least, uneasy, though some inhabitants of each seem more friendly than others. Lila Black is a Special Agent for Otopia who was nearly killed in Alfheim, only to be resurrected as a cyborg with multiple weapons and an onboard AI. She is assigned to protect an elven rockstar, Zal, who has been receiving death threats from Alfheim separatists who wish to close off their realm from the others. Zal's band, the No Shows, also contains Faery and Otopian members and Zal himself seems to have become part Demon following his assignment there by the Alfheim elite. This very visible collection of the inhabitants of varied realms has a huge fan following and are seen by some as a bad example. But can Lila really protect him when she barely understands what she has become, especially after Zal is kidnapped to Alfheim where magic is much more reliable than it is in Otopia? To make matters worse Lila has been drawn into a Game with Zal, and all Games come with forfeits for the losers...
I've been enjoying Justina's work since 1999's Silver Screen and this is a very welcome new book from a very talented writer. The mixture of magic and science is not in the least bit offputting, especially as there are more than a few hints that magic is, itself, just a different form of science (not a new idea, to be sure, but handled deftly and with some authority). Lila is a fine character with a subtle blend of confidence and uncertainty, without becoming unrealistically heroic or pathetic, and the inter-realm politicking has a convincing ring to it. Plenty of hints are dropped which point the way to the subsequent volumes and, by the time you finish this book, you are already waiting with keen anticipation for more. Highly recommended.
See also Jonathan's take on Keeping it Real.
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