“Quantum Gravity is a multi part adventure of operatic proportions put together from all the things I like about Science Fiction and Fantasy. It is a shameless romp. It is fun from start to finish. If some serious themes have crept into it that was probably accidental and must have happened when I wasn’t looking (ahem). There’s a girl cyborg secret agent with a troubled past, an elf rock star, some cracks in the fabric of existence that are starting to stretch the wallpaper – and not forgetting necromantic possession, doomed love, hot sex and friends who would sooner eat you than help you if you get them wet…”
– Justina Robson
I don’t necessarily jump up and down and all around in flaming wrath when I read fantasy/science fiction with protagonists my age or younger who are much, more more matyre than I am. I’m tolerant like that. But when I do find a protagonist who does not make me feel like I’m six to their one hundred I am delighted. Tad Williams does it. Lynn Flewelling sometimes does it. Justina Robson does it, in the first book of Quantum Gravity: Keeping it Real.
In 2015, a Quantum Bomb explosion shattered not the physical world but the fabric of the dimensions themselves. Five other realms of existence were discovered side-by-side with Earth: Alfheim (for the elves), Thanatopia (for the Dead), Demonia (for the demons) and Zoomenon (for the Elements). Earth – now Otopia – can, must and does negotiate with the inhabitants of these other realms, but things are not always as smooth as they could be.
It’s the 2020s and Lila Black is 21 years old. She is a human-machine hybrid, rebuilt after being torn apart by hostile elvin forces two years ago. She is a prototype, a secret weapon. And she’s currently bodyguard to an elf who’s breaking cultural taboos left, right and centre. Zal is/isn’t – a typical elf, and he’s being threatened by racists and politicians and fundamentalists, and someone has to keep him alive to save the worlds, and tht someone is Lila Black.
I’m going to steal Ken‘s word and say that this book is multidisciplinary. It’s too developed to be chiclit, it’s too magical to be science fiction, it’s too steam punk to be epic, it’s too introspective to be a spy thriller, and it’s too practical to be Robocop. (And it breaks with traditions of each of those genres even while seeming to mix them all in one big melting pot.) It references and shouts out to musical, literary, cinematic, television traditions and styles and moves at a whirlwind pace that moves the plot along quickly – a plus – and sometimes blurs crucial emotional character moments that occur but don’t register at the first reading – a very bad minus.
This is a fun (hot) read. It’s probably important that you keep it in mind when you read it. And just because it’s fun doesn’t mean it’s not going to be serious, and gritty and touching at the same time. Whedon and Pratchett have been doing this for years – though I suspect Quantum Gravity won’t be able to keep it up that long. Too many novels and the series might start to sag at the middle, and die before the end. I’m hoping for a trilogy? A penology at most.
Lila is – and it took me a second, very slow read to come to this conclusion, the uneven rushing does distract from character moments at times in a very annoying way – a very well-realised character. It’s hard to keep her in focus – the novel can shift in a rather tripolar manner – since we often see her through the filter of her machine-side, and through her own extreme focus on the people around her. But she is consistent, and persistent, and real. She doesn’t feel like me, but she feels like she’s lived as long as I have. (I’m 22, this matters.) Perhaps the series would benefit from more non-Lila PoVs. Those breaks are few and far between in Keeping it real – I think there’s only one such scene – and Robson can show you a completely familiar and completely alien mindset convincingly.
It’s a youthful, mature, energetic novel, written wittily, emotionally, practically and viscerally. I wouldn’t mind picking up the second book when it comes out in June.
I’m linking to what I assume was the promotional site. The PDF and the Excerpt links contain the same material. There’s a song, and a cartoon, and information on the second book: