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Crashing Heaven (SF) - Al Robertson ****

There's an engaging mix of powerful thriller and science fiction in this impressive novel. After the Earth has been rendered uninhabitable, human life is limited to vast space station. Our central character, Jack, has a symbiotic artificial intelligence, Hugo Fist, designed to destroy other AIs in a mysterious collective that is said to have committed an atrocity - but with a kick in the tail that because of an unbreakable contract, Fist will take over Jack's body in a few weeks' time.

Al Robertson packs remarkable technology concepts into the cyber side of this story, from AI corporations that act as a pantheon of gods to the 'puppet' that is Fist (he usually come across as a virtual cross between Mr Punch and an evil ventriloquist's dummy). Robertson does all the cyber stuff so well that it's easy to miss that this is, in effect, a myth in electronic clothing - you could substitute the myths of 'real' Greek gods and magic for what happens here. Although everything is described in cyber-terminology the designers of this technology seem so determined to give everything a 'realistic' skin that the result is just as if magical beings were in action. So, for example, when Fist gets hurt, his projected image appears damaged, explained as because resources aren't available to show him whole - even though it would take more resources to show him damaged.

This doesn't take away from the book at all - you just have to go with the flow. And what an excellent flow it is. Robertson's imagination pumps out remarkable possibilities for a world where the 'weave' (think web plus) enables nothing to be what it seems to the vast majority who are permanently connected through implants. I'm not going to describe any of these examples as it would verge on a spoiler, but there are many beautiful touches. Just occasionally that flow is broken by over-heavy chunks of backstory (rather too much tell and not enough show) - but this gets less common as we head into the book.

I'm not a great fan of post-apocalyptic stories or of space operas - but though there are elements of both here, they're just set dressing for a fantastic bit of storytelling.

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Review by Brian Clegg

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