Friday, April 06, 2007

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.

Related Posts: Review of Mappa Mundi


Adam Whitehead said...

I'm reading this at the moment and am struggling with it. The book has just failed to engage me. I hope it gets better, as you suggest it may.

Neth said...

I'm looking forward to seeing your ultimate opinion. Most reviews I've read on this are very positive (though Alice was no fan). I'm a bit mixed in my reaction, though I like the concept and felt the good out weighed the bad.

Joe Sherry said...

I think I liked the concept and the interplay of the fantastic with SF and the broken heroine a bit more than you did.

Neth said...

Joe - I liked the concept and it worked well. My main beef is with the main character - she is a carbon copy of so many different characters out there.

Danae/Ro said...

I think part of the problem, Ken, is that Robson is juggling her concept as well as her characters. I like what she's done with Lila simply because it's done consistently - I've read far too much chicklit where the character merely stands in for her role. At least Lila (for me) works in that role, and seems believable in it.

(Also, lots of stuff re: feminism, virgins and sex that I won't rant about here.)

But if you want different, novel, unique characters, we may have to look to the supporting cast for that.

Also, I really do think this is a young person's novel. Or perhaps a young-person's-tv-watching person's novel. Which is not quite the same thing.

Neth said...

Danae/Ro - I think the biggest problem that I had with the book is that it just never came together for me - at times it seemed like a teenager popping caffine pills. In that respect, I think you are correct in saying that this book is aimed more for the generation below mine.

Lila never distinguished herself from so many other 'chic-lit' characters, but she did come close a couple times. This gives me hope for the next book. The most interesting characters were supporting, so I hope we get to see more of them in the future.

Pabkins said...

ahhh shucks but come on - its sci fi urban fantasy LOL

Pabkins @ Mission to Read


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