Fiction Reviews


(2016) Jon Wallace, Gollancz, £16.99 / Can$25.99 / US$19.99 , trdpbk, 292pp, ISBN 978-0-575-11889-8


In the aftermath of a nuclear war, humans are hostile to Ficials: artificial humans embued with logical thought, nonotechnology enhanced health and, depending on the type of Ficial, specialist function capabilities. Ficials think very differently from humans (Reals) and are less affected by the harmful aspects of the post-apocalyptic environment.

Kenstibec is a Ficial, or at least he was until his bio-repair nanotech was killed. Originally, he had been optimised for construction (civil engineering). While he still retains nearly all of his Ficial outlook and perspectives, he has lived among humans for so long that he can get by as one of them; he even looks human as he now cannot fully heal.

Having left Britain he was taken onboard a hightech ocean-going vessel run by Ficials who are providing a haven for healthy human survivors with a view to creating a brave new world where Real humans can flourish through Ficial logic.

But Kestinbec is now neither truly Ficial nor Real, and is uncertain where his own future lies. Meanwhile, across the brutalised world, surviving humans have come together in scattered settlements exhibiting wildly different levels and types of barbarism: it is survival of the fittest.

In an expedition to one such settlement to rescue (buy slaves) comparatively healthy human children, Kestinbec and his mixed human Ficial team are noticed. An when they return for more children they are followed; some settlements it seems are more organised than others.

Before long Kestibec finds himself a prisoner in an assemblage of refinery and oil rigs (the 'rig' of the title) somewhere in the Arctic.  This settlement is run along feudal lines working to support a small elite aboard a luxury liner.  Escape seems difficult, but not impossible…

This is the third novel in the 'Kestinbec' trilogy that follows Barricade and Steeple. Here, Jon Wallace manages to continue to provide a gritty high adventure mixed with some dark humour and a number of SFnal riffs.  As with the previous two books – the first of which at least really needs to be read first so as to properly appreciate the set-up – the story in periodically interrupted with flashbacks to the time of societal meltdown prior to the final nuclear apocalypse. These flashbacks help illuminate how Ficials were created and what caused the world to end up the way it did.  This earlier time itself was not pleasant. Overpopulation and resource depletion was already straining society without the nuclear apocalypse. Britain had developed Ficials as tools to get things back on track: construction Ficials would build; medical Ficials heal; and soldier Ficials fight wars for humans.  But Ficials' non-human thought processes meant that they did not easily get along with Reals.  But the Ficial 'Control' complex would address that problem…

I have great enjoyed this Kestinbec trilogy.  Jon Wallace himself may now move on to new writing territory but with this trilogy has certainly proven himself one to watch. The good news is that he has left open the opportunity for other stories in this Ficial-Real world.  I for one would greatly welcome his returning to it after a suitable break, honing skills, and being able to see what else this new writer can do. If he does eventually return to it I would certainly be up for more Ficial.

Jonathan Cowie

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