(1998) John Meaney, Bantam, £5.99, pbk, 556pp, ISBN 0-553-50588-2
John Meaney's first novel is a thriller set in a strongly imagined technological capitalist future. The action is set on the planet of Fulgor, currently undergoing terraforming. Society there is dominated by the elite Luculenti, humans enhanced by direct neural interfaces to secondary processors and high speed networks. Meaney is adept at putting over the way in which Luculenti can effortlessly perform several tasks any one of which would be beyond the scope of an unenhanced person. There are also Dune-esque Pilots, who are the only people capable of navigating the mu space that makes interstellar travel possible.
The plot centres on Luculentus Rafael de la Vega, a ruthless psychopath, who has subverted the communications software used by Luculenti to allow him access to other Luculenti minds in a way that destroys them. Rafael has involved corrupt elements in the Fulgor police, and Luxprime, who provide the comms technology. Caught up in his plot is Tetsuo Sunadomari, who provided mu space comms to Rafael and is now being hunted for murder. His mother, Yoshiko, arrives on Fulgor and begins to search for him.
The story moves at a great pace, and the technology of the society is bound into the story in a natural way. Meaney sometimes over uses the tricks of thriller writers: short choppy sentences. No verbs. But in general the book is engagingly written. My only real gripe is with the motivation of the characters in Yoshiko's thread of the story. It seems unbelievable in such a profit driven society that so many people will go so far out of their way to help her. This culminates in a scene at the end of the book where (without giving too much away) Rafael is finally trapped by a trick equivalent to shutting down the whole of British Telecom.
The sheer implausibility of this undermines a lot of the earlier good work Meaney does in establishing the credibility of his world. These flaws aside, this is a well thought out, exciting thriller. As a first novel, it's extremely impressive.
See also Peter's take on To Hold Infinity.
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