Bookshelf (Starburst Reviews) Bookshelf compiled by David Howe
• part of Starburst's monthly Reviews section
Selected from Starburst #273

Selected this month: Neal L Asher's Gridlinked and
New York Nights, by Eric Brown

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Gridlinked
by Neal L Asher • Published by Macmillan, March 23 • 428pp, paperback • Reviewer: Anthony Brown

Neal L Asher's Gridlinked

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‘A touch of humanity adds the final icing to an already fast-moving and enjoyable tale’

After building himself a reputation in the small press world, Neal L Asher makes the move to the big league with Gridlinked, a novel which builds on the background of his earlier short stories Runcible Tales.

When an unfortunate accident destroys a passenger travelling through one of the instant-transport ‘Runcibles’ linking the galaxy (and also the entire settlement to which he was headed), the ECS section of the Polity despatch one of their top agents to investigate. He’s got experience of the alien ‘Dragon’ suspected of responsibility, but the timing’s a litle unfortunate, even if a vengeful terrorist wasn’t on his trail...

The resemblance between Asher’s Polity and Iain Banks’ Culture might seem obvious, but then the Culture itself is merely a subversion of the Federation. In all three cases the galactic society provides a backdrop to the story, and it’s the differences between them which make the story itself very different. Instead of the American Dream and a Socialist Utopia, the Polity is a world ruled by money and vengeance which provides the perfect setting for an SF Bond as it might be written by Tarantino.

A cheeky aside makes Agent Ian Cormac’s links to Bond clear at one point – like 007, he’s a ruthless and efficient agent who’ll use sex and violence to get the job done. But here comes the SF twist – thirty years of connection to the instant information of the AI grid has dehumanized him to the point where his lack of empathy is undermining his skills, and now he’s having to rediscover his own humanity and his ability to rely on his own resources alone. The result is a touch of humanity which adds the final icing to an already fast-moving and enjoyable tale.

With a lot left unexplored, Gridlinked is clearly the first of a series. In Bondian terms, by the end we know who the ‘Blofeld’ is, but not what his next scheme will be and it’s going to be great to find out in next year’s follow-up The Skinner.

Starburst rating: 9 / 10

New York Nights
by Eric Brown • Published by Gollancz, 261pp • hardback • Reviewer: Tony Lee

New York Nights

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'I found the entire tale utterly predictable and lacking in genuine intrigue...'

Hal is a private detective, specializing in missing persons, but unlike TV rent-a-cops, he lives in mid-21st century America. With his aged partner, Barney, he investigates the disappearance of a woman involved in the cutting-edge world of VR technology and stumbles into a murder case. At first, he suspects this is simply industrial espionage gone awry, as rival research companies fight it out in a highly competitive marketplace. But, as the body count rises, and Hal’s colleagues and family (his estranged sister, in particular) become targets for an inhuman killer, something far more sinister than ruthless capitalism and high tech secrets emerges.

Although the plot develops briskly enough, the characters are all clearly defined (if not especially interesting), and this is certainly a competently written crime thriller, New York Nights is rather lacklustre as SF. The ideas presented here are distinctly unoriginal and so commonplace I found the entire tale utterly predictable and lacking in genuine intrigue. Perhaps, the plain truth of the matter is that any serious attempt to bridge the vast gulf between sci-fi and cri-fi is probably bound to end up doomed to failure like as the thorn between two roses.

Eric Brown is a talented writer capable of much better work than this, I think, and it’s a great shame that many of the big publishing houses seem to be drifting away from the mid-list authors of Brown’s calibre, only supporting obviously populist doggerel in an effort to draw mainstream readers and fans of other literary genres to hopelessly vague cross-genre books. Excuse my ranting on here, but I have formed a profound dislike of such exercises in book marketing as this.

Starburst rating: 5 / 10

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