Published on September 25th, 2015 | by Michaela Buckley1
Crashing Heaven by Al Robertson
The cyberpunk genre is back in force this year with Crashing Heaven by Al Robertson and Roboteer by Alex Lamb being released within months of each other, and both are debut novels too.
Crashing Heaven is the forerunner in this year’s Cy-Fi binge (yes, I am still using that word), with a more aggressive approach to the genre, similar to the Quantum Thief or Altered Carbon, sharing the action of both.
It was written by new British author, Al Robertson who says that there may be more from the Crashing Heaven universe.
In the far future, humanity lives on Station, a colonised asteroid and the Pantheon are the protectors, powerful entities of which their true nature is obscure. Everyone on Station is assigned one of the gods of the Pantheon as their guardian and advisor, sometimes using people to carry out their corporate needs or just to act as a patron in their lives, it is said that the Pantheon are the mysterious force that saved humanity from their downfall.
The Totality are an alien species comprised of extremely advanced AI that recently won the war against the Pantheon and Station. In an amicable gesture, they have offered a hand of friendship and are trying to ‘negotiate a peace while looking to build their power in Station in subtler ways’.
Jack Forster is an ex-soldier, well, more ex-accountant turned soldier that was in the war with the Totality, shunned by the people on Station and restricted from using its features such as the ever-present Weave (uber-internet), he has only his puppet for company. Yep, his puppet, Hugo Fist. What sets the novel apart from other novels in the cyberpunk genre, or even science-fiction, is the sinister buddy-cop element between Forster and his virtual puppet, Fist.
During the war Forster was fitted with a virtual personality that has the cyber-sleuthing powers to take down the Totality, a considerable amount, however with great power comes great annoyance, as Fist is a very large presence who isn’t entirely pleasant, in fact he basically spends every waking moment tormenting Forster, who thankfully has a lot of resilience to his constant patter.
Forster and Fist (cool name duo) are back from the war and discover that some of Forster’s friends have met grisly demises in suspicious circumstances, after open-shut cases he decides that he will take the matter into his own hands. Their enquiries lead to attention from the wrong people and action ensues.
The tone of the novel is fairly dark, in keeping with the character of Fist and the melancholy state the colony is in, there are strong themes of loss and moral ethics, but with so much happening there is lots to love. My favourite conduits for these themes are the fetches, AI that is copied from people to create an entity after death for loved ones and the Totality, which are an intriguing subversion on the typical ‘antagonists’ for the heroes’ side, the Pantheon, in the war.
There are some negatives to what otherwise is a perfect novel. The comfortably straightforward narrative relies on a lot of things happening at once in order to move forward, for someone that reads as much as I it caused little issue (I got a bit muddled once and had to tweet the author for clarification!) with figuring out some of the exposition at the start, but I can see someone new to the genre or reading in general having a little trouble. So, a beginner author not so great for beginner SF readers, strangely enough. For most though, this will inevitably be a huge plus, as it means that there is a lot more content per page, leaving more to think about afterwards.
A wonderful neo-noir cyberpunk novel, it switches up the tropes and leaves us with a refreshing and solid piece that has good room for expansion potential, while also being a nice number by itself, I look forward to seeing more, especially if he can reinvent some other sub-genres, I’m looking at you Military Sci-Fi.