(review originally posted on my livejournal account: http://intoyourlungs.livejournal.com)
I have never heard of this book before. I've heard of Justina Robson before, but I've never read her or really had any inclination to (not that I think she's a bad author, but the one book I heard about by her, Natural History, looked a little too heavy of a sci-fi for me at the time, so I didn't pay it much mind.) I was more than happy to read it for this month's pick though, and while this is a fairly heavy book (both literally at 500+ pages and figuratively), it was still fun. And that's usually what matters, right?
One of the things that made this book so much fun was how everyone was intertwined and related to one another. I didn't pay as much attention to the first chapters found in 'Legends' which was a bit to my disadvantage, because I forgot a lot of the names that I had read there. So, note to readers who may check this book out, make sure to remember the names! I mean, it's kind of obvious because they're there, but they're definitely important, so don't skim those chapters. Especially the one on Guskov.
Actually, I don't know what was up with me, but I had a hard time concentrating on this book, which is a shame, because it is really, really good. Part of it was that there were a lot of sciency bits. I try really hard to follow those parts, but they get into all kinds of complicated theory, and I'm really not a science kid. At all. So, my eyes kind of start to glaze over, and because of that, I think I missed some important details. This caused me to be a bit confused at parts. I also could never figure out exactly WHAT Nerve Path was, or the difference between it and Selfware. Again, this isn't Robson's fault, but rather mine, because for whatever reason, I couldn't concentrate on this title very well (but oh how I wanted to.) This didn't really deter the reading experience though, because I did know that the fault was with me.
Despite all those science bits confusing me a bit, I was saved by the great cast of characters that Robson has conjured here. I liked pretty much everyone (even Guskov for some reason) with the exception of Mary. I HATED HER. I don't know why I hate her SO much, but I do. I'm sorry, but I just can't feel sorry for her despite her 'woe-is-me' plight over being a double-agent and in love with Jude. I would get upset when he would find himself wanting to sex her and could hear myself screaming in my mind: "NO!! You're meant to be with Natalie even though you've only really met her like, two times. DDD:" The fact that I feel attached and care what these characters do though as shown that Robson has created characters that I *care* about, even when I dislike them.
There's all kinds of moral dilemma in this book too, due to Nerve Path and Selfware and Mappa Mundi and all that jazz. The whole "we should follow through with this project because we could control people for the greater GOOD" vs the "yeah, but you could also use it to unethically control people to do a whole lot of BAD" was an engaging topic, and one that will make this book great for discussion. Really, the line for morals and ethics here is somewhat blurred. I mean, yeah, it's unethical to make people believe in democracy when they actually DON'T, or to make people disbelieve in religion when they actually DO, but if it's going to be for the greater good, where do you draw the line? Also, it's stated several times throughout the novel that it won't make people automatons; they'll still be able to more or less think for themselves, so will the effects of the mind-altering really work in the long-run? I don't know, but it was interesting stuff.
Final Verdict: Unfortunately I had a hard time concentrating on this title, and I'm not too sure why, but I don't fault the author. However, because of said unable-to-concentradness, I didn't pick up on important details which led me to be a little confused. So with that, I give a word of caution: this isn't a light read and you have to be ready to pay attention when you read. However, despite being a little confused at times, I still really enjoyed this novel. The characters were fantastic, and while I didn't necessarily LIKE everyone (re: Mary; stupid stupid Mary) I still FELT something for each character, and I did really root for the ones I like. There's also all kinds of discussion to be had with this book as it does delve into all kinds of questions of moral ethics. I do want to point out that if you're looking for sci-fi with spaceships and stuff, you won't find it here; this book falls mostly in the speculative fiction umbrella because it mostly takes place in our world as we know it, but with a touch of the futuristic (with gadgets like the Pads, and the whole 'mapping the brain' science going on.) Robson has obviously done her research for this novel as well and it shows. I do think I'll be checking out more Robson in the future; I hope to read Natural History by her, and maybe check out her sci-fi series too (the name eludes me at the moment.) A definite recommend.