The first third is a lovely description of Lila experiencing Demonia. For instance, in one section, she has shut down and retreated into an emotionless space (but without switching on her AI emotion override), then in the next line, she is yelling at Malachi, a good friend, to "shut up." I gathered the book was about an emotional journey for Lila, but I felt like a lot of it was excessively emotional, with wild mood swings from one paragraph from the next, without narrative hints as to what was provoking it. Emo aside, I enjoyed the developing character of Malachi, and the world building of Demonia. Robson attempts to throw readers into her world with some initial backstory, but once her readers get that initial description, are often presented with actions and narrative developments without much context.
And in this case it's the latest three books by our old friend Justina Robson, whose classic artificial-intelligence primer Silver Screen really blew me away when I read it earlier this year (yep, it was yet another book in this big box from Pyr), and made me realize why she's considered by many to be one of the real shining lights of the so-called "British New Wave" of science-fiction authors in the early 2000s. (And in an attempt to pre-emptively stop a rash of angry letters from coming in, let me make it perfectly clear that I don't think there's anything wrong with liking traditional fantasy, simply that it's not my particular cup of tea, just as there are lots of people who can't stand the silly neo-Victorian finery of the "steampunk" genre that I so adore.) But this being Robson, of course, she's come up with her own jarringly unique twist on things, which in good "world-building" style starts with a seemingly simple conceit behind it all, which then gets more and more complex the further you examine it: namely, that throughout the entire course of human history, there have actually been half a dozen inhabited planets scattered across the universe, each of the others filled with the kinds of creatures we've only known before in fairytales (a world full of elves, a world full of demons, a world full of fairies, etc), and that a recent mysterious cataclysmic event (known as the "quantum bomb") ripped open an interdimensional gateway between the worlds for the first time. And right away, in fact, Robson does with this concept one of the most brilliant things I've ever seen a genre author do, which is to answer all the immediate questions one would have concerning such a quantum bomb with a simple, "Nobody knows;" that in fact one of the many side-effects of this bomb was to collectively wipe humanity's memories of life before the bomb (much less what caused the bomb itself), to such a profound extent that Earth isn't even called 'Earth' anymore but rather 'Otopia,' to signify The World That Is from The World That Was. What these books mostly concern themselves with, then, are the ways these various races deal with each other, now that they can all travel freely between the worlds, as well as humanity's efforts to learn as much about these other planets as possible; and Robson does this in a way that harkens all the way back to Silver Screen, by presenting us with the delightfully neurotic main protagonist Lila Black, who is half big-hipped indie-rock nerd queen and half mechanized warrior robot, the result of a freak one-time bionics experiment by what is now Otopia's interdimensional spy agency, after a previous assignment that went bad and left her nearly dead. This is actually one of the things Robson is known for, in fact, addressing female body-image issues through the filter of some pretty astounding hard-science concepts; and just like the self-conscious big-hipped female heroine of Silver Screen, so too is Lila's preoccupation with her looks a running theme to the Quantum Gravity series, and so too does Lila spend quite a bit of time pondering how her semi-hideous half-mecha body** comes across to others, and how it does and does not affect her love life among all the various creatures out there in the interdimensional universe. And again, she does this in these sometimes infinitely clever ways, that rely heavily on the fantastical elements of the universe she's created; take for example her entire concept of 'aether,' which in the world of "Quantum Gravity" is supposed to be a sort of form of naturally existing energy that humans simply never knew about before the bomb, a sorta free form of electricity and an internet-style wireless communications network all at once, or perhaps it's better thought of like "The Force" from the original Star Wars trilogy, a kind of living energy that binds together all living creatures and affects their actions in subtle ways.
I still find myself confused as to particular details due to my reading of the text, but I'm not too upset, because I'm pretty certain Robson will explain them all (even if it is in a rather roundabout way) in the next book(s). Plus, I think the more you know about the story, the characters, and their worlds, the more sense it all makes, so reading them again will illuminate the books in ways that weren't noticeable the first time around.return returnIf you're a fan of the first book, you'll like this one.
Lila's relationship, if you can call it that, with Tath, the elf necromancer who's living inside her heart, continues to develop in interesting ways that add a lot to the story. Mal, Lila's suit-loving black cat fairy colleague, becomes a bigger character in this book, and he's a lot of fun. I liked Teazle the demon assassin a lot, as well as Lila's crazy imp familiar Thingamajig.
Alas, there are more worlds to know, more creatures to draw within our circle and only by book-end do we get a concrete and purposeful vision for the reader to hang their hat upon.
Read the first part in 2015, after my surgery...