(2004) Tony Ballantyne, BCA, £5.00, hrdbk, 345pp, ISBN CN 129421
This is Ballantyne's debut novel, which I've been searching for in shops and second-hand bookstores to no avail. Luckily this is the 21st century and there's this thing called the internet (oh, you've heard of it) which allowed me to finally pick this up...
There are three plot strands here. In 2051 Eva Rye is trying to kill herself. It is not just the depression and sense of hopelessness, and it is not just that Social Care seems more intrusive than really necessary; it is that Eva can't shake the impression that there's something out there watching her, studying her. Something which seems to have most of the world in its grip. When she hooks up with others in a psychiatric institution she discovers that she is not the only one who has been having feelings about a strange Watcher, but is not prepared for the day when she actually meets it. In 2119 Constantine is having headaches due to all the other intelligences crammed into his head. Sometimes he does not feel totally real at all and wonders if he might be trapped in a virtual reality, being subtly interrogated. Unfortunately, he doesn't really know what his captors want and, for that matter, neither do they. Whatever the problem, it seems to have something to do with the vanished corporation DIANA... And in 2210 Herb has just destroyed a planet. While building his own private little paradise his self-replicating machines slipped their programming and ate the whole planet, instead of just building a city. Just when Herb thinks he's gotten away with it, Social Care send the robot Robert Johnson with a proposition: be tried for the crime and spend the next 80 years frozen and having his brain used as a low-level processor, or help out Social Care with another little problem... Of course, Johnson does not immediately reveal to Herb that the problem is the Enemy Domain which is set to engulf human space and is already over a hundred times larger, spanning light years. Herb is about to receive a crash course in how to fight war against self-replicating machines, but will he learn the lessons in time to avert catastrophe?
This was, and is, a great little debut and, while the multi-stranded plotlines might for some be confusing, subsequent books have confirmed the promise shown in this volume. Hopefully Ballantyne will go from strength to strength, and we can all look forward to an interesting future from him. Recommended.
See also Capacity, Capacity (2nd review), Divergence and Divergence (2nd review).
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