Short works

Books : reviews

Justina Robson.
Silver Screen.
Pan. 1999

rating : 2.5 : great stuff
review : 20 August 2005

Anjuli is a genius with a perfect memory, who has a great job as psychiatrist to a true AI. Sounds wonderful, except that she believes herself to be a fraud, her best friend has just died in mysterious circumstances, and she has discovered that the Company that she works for has some rather dark secrets. And then things just keep getting worse.

In 2000 I listened to a 2Kon panel discussion of the Arthur C Clarke Awards shortlist, which included Silver Screen. From that I got a strong, and completely incorrect, impression of what it was about, despite the fact that every comment made was correct!

This is certainly a great book, if very confusing in places. The future atmosphere is nicely painted, with no great gobs of infodump, just a slowly dawning realisation of just how different some aspects of life have become under the reality of AIs and nanotech. Anjuli is a deeply flawed character (as are most of the others), and none of the problems have an easy, or indeed any, solution. There is no magic rewind button here. But the journey is interesting, and full of variety.

Justina Robson.
Mappa Mundi.
Pan. 2001

rating : 3 : worth reading
review : 12 April 2009

Natalie Armstrong is a scientist dedicated to mapping and manipulating the brain's meme-plex. She wants to use her nanite technology and programming to help mentally ill and brain-damaged people; various governments and organisations have other ideas. FBI agent Jude Westhorpe is investigating his half-sister's attempted murder, during a strange outbreak of madness in her town. The trail leads him to Natalie, and they soon find themselves caught up in a dangerous web of conspiracies, where they can trust no-one.

After a slow start (I stalled about a hundred pages in, and it took me a few weeks to get started again) this is good stuff. Great gobs of consciousness and complexity science, along with immunology and information theory. It's very complicated, with all sides doing terrible things for what they believe to be the best of motives, and Natalie and Jude get sucked in deeper and deeper until it looks as if there is no possible way out for the entire human race.

Some have criticised "almost supernatural outcomes like walking through walls" as being out of place -- I don't think they are -- it's just (an extreme) extrapolation of the tech and science in the plot.

People also seem to want to comment on "the sense of place". Now, part of it is set in York, where I've worked for the last nearly seven years -- so maybe I should comment. I didn't recognise the places (except for the names), but that's nothing to go by -- I often don't recognise places when I'm actually in them, let alone from descriptions of them.

The main problem I had was with the programming (natch), but then this never feels right to me in books (the coding styles all feel 20 years in the past, rather than 10 years in the future) -- too much "and then I quickly wrote a bunch of code and downloaded it and solved the problem" rather than "and I quickly wrote a bunch of code, so had to spend the next couple of weeks debugging it, but there's still this weird little problem just there. Sometimes." Although here we do also have some horrible hacky kludged code, and one main plot element is due to code going wrong. So that's quite realistic.

Grand scope, good ideas, nicely executed. I'm not sure why I stalled, but if you do too, keep going; it's worth it.

Justina Robson.
Ticonderoga Publications. 2011


Heliotrope. 2011
Body of evidence. 2008
The adventurers' league. 2005
The girl hero's mirror says he's not the one. 2007
The bull leapers. 1997
Deadhead. 1996
Erie Lackawanna song. 2009
Cracklegrackle. 2009
No man's island. 1998
Trésor. 1994
The seventh series. 2001
The little bear. 2005
Legolas does the dishes. 2008
Dreadnought. 2006
An unremarkable man. 2006
A dream of Mars. 2011

Justina Robson.
Glorious Angels.
Gollancz. 2015

Justina Robson.
The Switch.
Gollancz. 2017

Harmony welcomes its model citizens

A perfect society must be maintained. The defective must be dealt with. For orphans like Nice and Twostar, this means a life that’s brutal, regulated and short.

But Nice and Twostar are survivors, and when they’re offered a way out of the slums, they take it.

Unfortunately, no one told Nico the deal included being sentenced to death for the murder of one of Harmony’s most notorious gang leaders.

Or that to gain his freedom, first he must lose his mind.

Justina Robson.
Salvation's Fire.
Solaris. 2018

The Tzarkomen necromancers sacrificed a thousand women to create a Bride for the Kinslayer so he would spare them in the war. But the Kinslayer is dead and now the creation intended to ensure his eternal rule lies abandoned by its makers in the last place in the world that anyone would look for it.

Which doesn’t prevent someone finding her by accident.

Will the Bride return the gods to the world or will she bring the end of days? It all depends on the one who found her, Kulo, a broken-hearted little girl with nothing left to lose.

Justina Robson.
Keeping it Real.
Gollancz. 2006

rating : 3 : worth reading
review : 25 November 2010

Elves and Borgs and Rock'n'Roll, oh my!

The Quantum Bomb of 2015 opened the way between the realms of humans, demons, fairies, and elves, and suddenly life has become much more confusing and dangerous. Agent Lila Black is now half cyborg, after much of her body was destroyed on a failed mission to Alfheim. On her first assignment after her cure, she is bodyguarding Zal, a renegade Elf Rock star who's receiving death threats from the Elvish secret police. Soon it turns out everything is much more complicated, and dangerous, than anyone thought, and Lila is in it up to her cyborg neck. But she has a lot of very cool hardware to call on.

Although this might start off looking like a fairly traditional (if I can use that word) Elves and Rock'n'Roll story, it quickly veers off into its own interesting territory. The combination of big-gun-enhanced cyborgs, and fantasy tropes, is all mixed in well together, and very little is what it seems. The particular tale here finishes well, but with enough loose ends and new threads to make the start of an interesting series.

Justina Robson.
Selling Out.
Gollancz. 2007

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 9 June 2011

Agent Lila Black has only just been debriefed about her disastrous first mission, which her actions resulted in Alfheim starting a civil war, and she hasn't told her bosses about the dead necromancer elf Tath living inside her chest. She gets sent straight out again, off to Demonia, to learn how the elf Zal became half demon. She has to learn how to avoid demonic assassination attempts without plunging Demonia into civil war, too. It probably means a trip to Hell. Meanwhile, Zal gets trapped somewhere much more dangerous.

The story is now getting more complicated as several more strong characters get entangled with Lila, and as she gets to confront some uncomfortable truths about her past, her family, her current job, and her resident elf. There are more threads this time, making a more complex weave, but there's a great resolution, and interesting scene setting for the next book.

Justina Robson.
Going Under.
Gollancz. 2008

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 29 September 2014

Lila Black is off with the faeries …

Ever since the Quantum Bomb oF 2015 things have been different; the dimensions have fused and suddenly our world is accessible to elves, demons, ghosts and elementals … and their worlds are open to us. Things have been different For Special Agent Lila Black too: tortured and magic-scarred by e1ves, re-bui1t by humans into a half-robot, part-AI being with the essence of a dead elven necromancer in her chest, sometimes she has trouble Figuring out who she is.

And a mission to Otopia, land of the fae, may not help her figure it out.

The fae are beautiful, glamorous, exotic and talented. Their inventions make food taste better, make beer divine, and bring sparkle and mischief to the world – but that’s only on the surface. Lila will have to deal with the fae at their most basic levels, as tricksters and deal-makers for whom the only deals worth making are bloody ones. If Lila’s quest is to succeed, and if she is ever to escape Otopia, the right question must be asked, the right sacrifice must be made, and the right quarry must be hunted down on the winter solstice.

Lila Black has been to the dimension of the elves and the demons; now it is the turn of the fairies. Ostensibly there to get help to remove the Mothkin infestation of human earth, she and her companions find themselves deep Under, playthings of the all-powerful Jack. Sacrifice will be needed before they can return home.

As usual this far into a series, things are getting complicated. Characters are growing and changing, Lila most of all, and consequences of earlier actions are coming back to haunt them. A series that started off as a slightly dark romp has got darker, and less rompy, but still interesting as a different take on the elves and fairies, that mixes the usual legends with contemporary technology.

Justina Robson.
Chasing the Dragon.
Gollancz. 2009

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 28 December 2015

Lila Black has a dead lover to save

Ever since the Quantum Bomb oF 2015 things have been diFFerent. The dimensions have Fused, making the worlds of elves, demons, ghosts and elementals accessible to us … and our world accessible to them. Things have been different For Special Agent Li1a Black too: she was tortured and magic-scarred by the elves, then re-built by humans into a halF-robot, part-AI being designed to police the boundaries between worlds.

It was a tough job. And it s only going to get tougher.

Lila has two men to save. One of her lovers – Teazle, the heir to Demonia, an extraordinary warrior blessed with a bold, possessive spirit – has vanished, leaving Li1a heir in his place. She’s been charged with finding and killing him, or risking becoming the target oF every demon whose path she crosses. The other, Za1, is dead … but that doesn’t mean he’s beyond rescuing.

Cyborg agent Lila Black has been deep Under Faerie. She and her friends have returned damaged, destroyed, dead. And fifty years have passed in human time, so Lila has lost everything at home, too. Her demon husband Teazle has been framed for murder and gone missing while searching for clues to the whereabouts of her dead elf husband Zal. Her possessed dress is giving her a hard time. Then the Ghost Fleet turns up. It’s all up to Lila again.

This starts off rather slowly, with Lila frankly moping about everything; fair enough, she’s got plenty to mope about. But eventually she starts to do things, stir things up, take charge, and charge into danger. And we’re back into fantastically imaginative and weird lands, as Lila risks everything to rescue Zal from the Edge of Death.

The series started off leaving home to explore the elf, demon, and fae worlds made available by the quantum bomb. Here the story is beginning to circle back to consider that initial event: who or what set off the bomb, and why? It feels things are setting up for a grand denouement in the final book; I’m confident Robson is going to pull this off in ways I can’t even begin to imagine!

Justina Robson.
Down to the Bone.
Gollancz. 2010

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 7 November 2017

The gap between the worlds was so thin in places, you could nearly step across without meaning to…

LiIa Black can still turn into a lethal war-winning machine with the merest thought but she doesn’t work for the agency any more. Problem is, she has no idea what to do next. Teazle is a demon who may have become Death’s Angel. And Zal is a has-been elven musician without a band.

They don’t add to up to much but when they get together major stuff goes down. And now the dead are walking, the veil between the worlds is tearing and if it fails altogether all bets are off. Someone has to do something and it looks like its going to have to be Lila.

Is attitude enough to get you through life and death? Will it get you a happy ending?

The final instalment of the Quantum Gravity series does not disappoint.

As with the previous instalment, this starts off slowly, because there is such a complicated scene to set by now. Lila and Zal and Teazel have all been through the wringer, and it looks like those events may just have been the starter for what’s about to go down: nothing less than the end of all the universes.

The trio have to fight to save everything, with no hope of success, and with little clue about who the real enemy is. So they use their standard approach: attack full on. Things get complicated and violent, but always engaging. And there is an unexpected, but satisfying, conclusion.

Justina Robson.
Natural History.
Pan. 2003

Justina Robson.
Living Next-Door to the God of Love.
Pan. 2005