Keeping It Real by Justina Robson
Multidisciplinary Studies is a buzz term often heard in the realm of higher education. Essentially referring to exactly what it sounds like, it is often praised and criticized by many people, though it’s generally agreed that it is an important part of dealing with our modern, integrated and global world. Genre-bending in the term most often used for a book that seems to fit into more than one existing genre category. Referring to Keeping It Real as genre-bending is not good enough – this book is multidisciplinary.
In Keeping It Real, the near-future Earth as we know it has suffered a catastrophic event – the explosion of a quantum bomb. The affects of this are not what we would generally associate with the explosion of a bomb, such as widespread physical destruction, but the breakdown of dimensional barriers separating parallel worlds that humans were unaware of. The worlds of elves, faeries, elementals, demons, and the dead have been revealed and uneasy integration has begun.
Lila Black is a human agent recovering from extreme injuries suffered at the hands of elfin agents. As a result she has been remade into a human-cyborg, a unique, powerful, and fully integrated super spy. Her new assignment is to guard an eccentric rock star elf under threat from his own kind in a conspiracy of unknown dimensions.
Keeping It Real has been called a book for the twenty-first century and I can see why. A gadgety, techno-punk feel prevails in a story with rock concerts, groupie parties, motorcycle chases, sex, shifting loyalties, and explosions. Ass-kicking female protagonists have become hot sellers, and Agent Black fits the typical mode of a damaged soul struggling to deal with her past as it’s confronted in the present – same story, different setting. In this aspect, Keeping It Real neither succeeds nor fails, it just is.
The flow of the book is somewhat uneven as Robson struggles with her hard sci-fi roots and comes across a bit bi-polar while inconsistent characterization never allowed me to fully care about Lila and the most intriguing characters are essentially ignored. Until the final 100 pages, I was never fully committed to this book and it was too easily set aside; however the final 100 pages generally rocked in spite of continued unevenness.
Keeping It Real is the first installment in the Quantum Gravity Sequence, with the second installment, Selling Out coming to the UK in June. It stands on its own well, as it contains a complete story arc, but leaves overarching questions unresolved – I’m comfortable with not knowing where the story will go next. In the future I hope to see more development of the secondary characters as they were simply more interesting than Lila.
Keeping It Real succeeds as a techno-punk romp through fantasy and science fiction while not quite achieving full integration elsewhere. For me, it scores a 6.5 out of 10 – this book will really appeal to some people while leaving others behind.
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