Bookshelf (Starburst Reviews) Bookshelf compiled by Anthony Brown
• part of Starburst's monthly Reviews section
Selected from Starburst #276

Selected this month: Adam Roberts's On
and Roger Levy's Reckless Sleep

Ratings given are now out of five

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On by Adam Roberts
Published by Gollancz, 387pp, hardback
Reviewer: Anthony Brown

'On' by Adam Roberts

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‘The central mystery is a joy to puzzle over, and Roberts’ imagery and style are striking'

Adam Roberts’ début novel Salt (Starburst #267) marked him out as a rare talent worthy of nominations for some of SF’s top awards with his first effort. On shows him to be versatile as well, as it has almost nothing in common with his first book. Instead of Space Opera it’s SF which masquerades as Fantasy – but sadly it doesn’t match its predecessor for quality.

Tighe is the princeling of a tiny village perched on the WorldWall: the sheer cliff-face which defines this distinctly unusual planet. His father is the local prince (which means he owns half a dozen goats, and is left at the edge of ruin when one of them falls off the Wall to its doom), and his narrow-minded grandfather is the village priest, who disapproves of Tighe consorting with a local pauper with heretical ideas about the nature of the Wall and God’s reasons for creating it.

It isn’t giving much away to say that Tighe’s curiousity about the WorldWall in the face of his Grandhe’s disapproval eventually forces him to leave his village and see the rest of the world, and it’s these travels which disappoint. Though Tighe becomes slave and soldier, victim and master in time-honoured style as events overtake him, very few of his experiences really contribute to solving the central mystery of the world’s nature. Instead, the answers come from an outside source, which could have provided them at any point in the narrative, and have to be filled out by an appendix of physics notes printed after the disappointingly inconclusive ending.

Against this, though, the central mystery is a joy to puzzle over, and Roberts’ imagery and style are striking. It’s just disappointing that so much of On eventually feels like the middle volume of a Fantasy saga – Starburst Rating: 3/5events which exist to postpone the story’s resolution instead of moving them towards a conclusion.

Reckless Sleep by Roger Levy
Published by Gollancz, 426pp paperback
Reviewer: Tony Lee

Reckless Sleep by Roger Levy

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'The book’s unpredictable plotting and exemplary characterisation maintains a keen level of interest'

Jon Sciler used to be a Far Warrior, part of an elite crew of space marines trained to fight alien monsters on a distant colony planet by means of remote-controlled war machines. Now he’s back on Earth, disgraced by failure, working for a company called Maze developing virtual reality games, and struggling to overcome terrible psychological scars resulting from the disastrous mission.

Chrye is a psych student intrigued by Sciler’s evocative war poetry and his unexplained breakdown, who wants to interview him for her thesis. But Sciler’s problems are stranger than they seem at first, and the surviving Far Warriors appear to be committing suicide at a disturbing rate. Maze’s intensely realistic VR program Cathar, a variation on sword’n’sorcery gaming where the players acquire magic powers, may in fact be an alternative world, and the mysterious backers at Maze have a secret agenda of their own.

Set in a future London collapsing under pollution and earthquakes, Reckless Sleep is a gripping, murder mystery with a fascinating SF background, exploring questions of identity, memory and perception in a detective thriller style reminiscent of Philip K Dick. I did find that action in the realm of Cathar was rather slow to develop, once the novelty value of its atmospheric Fantasy scenario wore off, but the book’s unpredictable plotting and exemplary characterisation maintains a keen level of interest when events in Sciler’s real life force him to face the demons of his past, confront the mortal fears of his present, and consider his future. The climax, when it hits, is nerve-shredding stuff, and shatters everything that reluctant hero Sciler believes.

Levy displays a rare understanding of what makes great characters. Starburst Rating: 4/5They are larger-than-life, yet all-too-human in their flaws and complexity. This is a brilliantly imaginative first novel.

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