Review: Void Star

Posted on July 9th, 2017 @ 19:46
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Void StarVoid Star by Zachary Mason

My rating:

Blurb:

Not far in the future the seas have risen and the central latitudes are emptying but it’s still a good time to be rich in San Francisco where weapons drones patrol the skies to keep out the multitudinous poor. Irina isn’t rich, not quite, but she does have an artificial memory that gives her perfect recall, and lets her act as a medium between her various employers and their AIs, which are complex to the point of opacity. It’s a good gig, paying enough for the annual visits to the Mayo Clinic that keep her from ageing.

Kern has no such access; he’s one of the many refugees in the sprawling drone-built favelas on the city’s periphery, where he lives like a monk, training relentlessly in martial arts, scraping by as a thief and an enforcer. Thales is from a different world entirely – the mathematically-inclined scion of a Brazilian political clan, he’s fled to L.A. after the attack that left him crippled and his father dead.

A ragged stranger accosts Thales and demands to know how much he can remember. Kern flees for his life after robbing the wrong mark. Irina finds a secret in the reflection of a laptop’s screen in her employer’s eyeglasses. None are safe as they’re pushed together by subtle forces that stay just out of sight.

Review:

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley.]

This story takes us on the paths followed by three characters very different from each other: Irina, carrying a brain implant that gives her perfect memory and access to AIs; Kern, a young refugee from the San Francisco favelas, who taught himself through books and martial arts thanks to a laptop found in a dump; and Thales, son of a murdered Brazilian politician, whose life hangs by a thread only because his body may reject the implant that saved his life at any moment.

The world depicted in the novel is not exactly cyberpunk, not exactly transhumanistic, not exactly dystopian, but a blend of all three? Life-prolonging and youth treatments exist… only for those who can afford them. The implant in both Irina and Thales’s brains is exceptional… but. Large corporations dominate everyday life, but the protagonists are different from their more usual cyberpunk counterparts. Earth is going through climate changes and places like Singapore are gradually going underwater, and many people don’t have access to basic necessities… but at the same time, a sense of wonder still permeates the story, if only because of the way the characters are confronted to various threats and obstacles, yet also to hopes and openings towards new paths. Kern’s laptop, for instance, because of what it represents, or could represent, for a young boy living in the streets. Or the inhuman and fascinating beauty of the AIs introduced here, the destructive Cloudbreaker and the elusive Mathematician.

This is both close to us, making it possible to grasp it, with its technologies that we can understand (tablets and phones, albeit somewhat obsolete for the wealthier characters), and at the same time deeply alien and full of mysteries (what would it be like to live with a perfect, artificial memory you can access just whenever, yet that may send you into seizure and kill you?).

‘Void Star’ reads well, although for some reason I felt like taking my sweet time with it, perhaps because unconsciously I didn’t want to finish it too fast? It may sometimes be a wee difficult to follow, since it doesn’t rely on detailed explanations, instead taking its readers through its characters’ travels; I quite liked that, though—I like that in general in SF/F, even though I know I can’t read such stories when I’m too tired, for fear of losing my pace and missing important hints. While some events appeared, as a result, a little confusing, in the end I could still piece everything together. The three main narratives are well interwoven—chapter Y actually holds the missing answers to what happened in chapter X, and so on—and even when I didn’t have all the information to understand their world in the beginning, it wasn’t much of a problem.

Conclusion: Not the easiest read around, due to its (beautiful but sometimes complex) descriptive language and concepts; however, if one is ready to tackle that, this book can be positively fascinating.

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