Aug 28, 10
Read in June, 2010 — I own a copy
Before going away on holiday, I told myself that I wasn't only going to read Gollancz books. I made sure that I selected a couple of non-SF works, but a couple of days before leaving I went to see Gollancz and left laden down with new titles. So, after a bit of fantasy action with Pierre Pevel, I decided to try a bit of high-concept sci-fi, and this seemed to fit the bill. Another of Gollancz's debut novelists (although most of them seem to be fantasy, there have been a fair few SF titles as well), all of which have been interesting and some of which have been great, the blurb on the back of the book sounded intriguing.
The book opens with a confusing but very well-written sequence in which our protagonist escapes from a prison which is somewhat of the mind, somewhat of the body and entirely insane. It's a bravura start - a strong idea, well-depicted and not particularly concerned about how closely the reader is following things. I had a real sense that the reader needed to trust the author, to allow the book to take off without worrying about things such as backstory or explanation, and to a large extent that trust is repaid. It doesn't surprise me to learn that the author "has a PHD in string theory", according to the editor's letter from the proof copy, as there are theories and ideas here that feel seriously cutting-edge. I have no idea which are feasible and which are Science Fiction, but that only added to my enjoyment of the book - it feels insane and very very unlikely, but perhaps potentially possible.
It isn't only the science that makes this book work - in fact, I don't think it's even largely that, although I'm not really a hard SF reader, so perhaps other people will care more. What I found more interesting were the ideas about identity and privacy that appear throughout the book. Rajaniemi has obviously put an awful lot of thought into the society he is depicting, and it comes across well. In some ways there may almost be too many ideas being thrown out - I'm sure I passed over some mind-bending bits of future society without even noticing, but that's hardly a criticism of the book. In fact, my only concern was that the characterisation might be a little flat, but that must be a bit of a calculated risk on the author's part - if your main character is going to have a slight case of amnesia, then it will be hard to give him a fully-formed personality...
The plot is seriously complex, although actually the middle of the book is fairly straightforward. I had to go over bits of the last section again (although this may have been due to the sunshine and the beer, to be fair!) and I'm still not quite convinced I've fully gathered all that was going on, but that's a good thing, really - it's always more fun to have to work at a book, and I don't think the author was leaving out information or that the writing was unclear. I was, perhaps, just in too much of a holiday mood. Besides, the prose was more than competent enough, and the ideas entertaining enough, that I didn't mind just being carried along by the plot rather than engaging with it fully. I really want to make it clear, though , that this isn't a criticism of the book...
It seems fairly clear that this is the first part in a potential series, and I'll certainly keep an eye out for the next volume. I read a proof on holiday in early June, and the book is out in September, ISBN: 9780575088870.