(2017) Zachary Mason, Jonathan Cape, £16.99, hrdbk, 387pp, ISBN 978-0-224-09824-3
Void Star is the second novel from up-and-coming American writer Zachary Mason and it details the ways a disparate collection of people deal with a 22nd century Earth in which memories can be externalised and augmented, Californian cities are rimmed with dangerous Favelas – slums for the disenfranchised - and contrasts between rich and poor are wide and growing. If you are rich enough, clinics and AI can keep you alive indefinitely. If you are poor your life is worthless and, if you are not careful it is quickly over.
There are three primary points of view: Kerin, from the slums, survives because of his martial arts expertise. Irina, AI enhanced, works for the web of companies and computers that run things, and Thales, a Brazilian political refugee see this society from the top looking down. All are brought together to thwart a powerful AI that is getting a little too powerful, with a penchant for taking over people with implants it can hack. Add a woman whose consciousness is trapped in an AI and people who want to beg borrow or steal the memories of others and you have a strong mix of imaginative, all too credible and interrelated ideas.
After a slow start the book gathers pace towards a satisfying ending, though I suspect many will not make it that far. The style is literary and Mason’s prose is rich and full – so much so, that this is hardly a page-turner. The book demands concentration and more than a little patience, but is rich in concepts and complexity. The plot builds up very slowly, though, and the book takes time to hook the reader in.
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