Fiction Reviews

Keeping It Real

(2006) Justina Robson, Gollancz, 6.99, pbk, 279pp, ISBN 0-575-07907-X


This is the 2007 paperback edition of last year's hardback (previously reviewed, so this appraisal is a different take). Justina Robson provides us with another hard-edged science fantasy though in this case it is delightfully over-the-top action romp.

Following the quantum bomb of 2015, which on Earth at least followed a super-collider accident it became apparent that the Universe was really a Multiverse and that there were five other realities with parallel Earths and that these separate space-time continua had slightly different physics which included something similar to magic. Following this event the laws of physics of the various continua changed slightly so that now magic worked on Earth... All this is 'common knowledge' that is presented to the reader in a small two-page section at the book's start.

Lila Black is a young (21 years old) woman who due to an accident has been re-built ('they have the technology') and so is now a cyborg powered by a small fusion torus augmenting her human part. She is also an agent for a company that is providing a security service to an Elf who is the lead singer in a rock band. Not only does she partly become (magically) infatuated with the Elf -- not entirely by choice it has to be said -- but there are forces after the Elf due to interworld politics between the different Earths.

Keeping it real is a gung-ho, ripping, science-fantasy adventure. Fast-paced and sassy, it bolts along at a cracking pace with the heroine stopping for nothing, save the occasional magically enhanced blow to her derring-do.

Now there is science fantasy and there is science fantasy. This ranges from fictional science so far advanced as if it appears as magic to some of the characters (cf. Zelazny's Lord of Light) through to fantasy dressed up as science (cf. Niven's 'magic goes away' sequence). However such a spectrum (as with left and right politics) actually meets at the spectrums extremities just as it also does in between them. (So not only can you have 'moderate' politics of a similar ilk, but you can also have extreme right as well as left wing dictatorships that are virtually indistinguishable in all but name.) Here with Keeping It Real's science fantasy not only is there advanced fictional science (the quantum bomb that allows space-time continua partly to merge with their varying physics) but also fantasy dressed up as science with the way 'magic' works to set rules. As such it is probably not the sort of novel for those who like their hard SF to be pure. Nor is it the novel with huge depth of meaning, other than the main kick-arse protagonist is obviously into no nonsense equal gender opportunities (which is no bad thing in itself). What Keeping It Real is, is a fun genre action novel that, unlike many from that stable, is coherently told with colour. More than this it is not afraid of using genre tropes in a confidently casual but authoritative way to carry the reader along the novel's high-dive ride of a plot. The protagonist also approppriately high-powered being, if you will, a modern day Tara King type terminator hybridising with Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In fact she is so high-powered she has a mini fusion reactor serving her bionics!

This edition comes with a cover illustration by Larry Rostant. I mention this because you may have unknowingly come across other of his covers featuring a slim, black leather clad young woman. His artwork is, I think, quite good but some of the other novels his work has adorned are decidedly shallow compared to Keeping It Real: so do not be put off by this association. The other thing to note is that Keeping It Real is billed as book one of the 'Quantum Gravity' series, so if you like such well-told, fantastical romps then there is more to follow.

Jonathan Cowie

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