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The Fortunate Fall
I really hate the phrase "stunning debut novel"; it's so overused that it's meaningless, although I suppose no publisher is going to label a book "mediocre but promising." But to my surprise, Raphael Carter's The Fortunate Fall lives up to the effusive praise it's lacquered with. Perhaps it didn't quite stun me, but after staying up all night to finish it, I was pretty well dazed.
Maya Andreyeva is a veteran news camera; she has a head full of wires and chips that transmit her full range of sensory impressions and associated thoughts, feelings, and memories. Before the signal reaches the audience, a screener processes it, removing irrelevant or undesirable sensations. The News One network assigns Maya a new screener while she's in the middle of a documentary series about the Unanimous Army, an unstoppable throng of wired zombies that liberated the Russian Historical Nation from the oppressive Guardian regime more than sixty years earlier.
The screener puts Maya in touch with Pavel Voskresenye, a witness of the atrocities she's researching. Naturally, there's a Conspiracy Afoot -- just once I'd like to read a cyberpunk novel with no Evil Conspiracies -- and Voskresenye drags her into the middle of it. Maya has run afoul of the current regime before; her libido and ten years of her memory have been suppressed by an implanted chip. (I find it interesting that the popular SF belief of the 50's and 60's that psychology will be able to fine-tune the human mind has given way to the belief that computers will be able to do the same.) Most of the final third of the book consists of the characters revealing a barrage of secrets at each other, which is a bit wearying, but on the whole the pacing and suspense work well.
The story shows only brief glimpses of its most interesting ideas: the ecology of grayspace, the Unanimous Army, and especially the African technocracy. There are also wonderful tidbits such as sanctimonious rental cars, the world's most polite police force, nanobugs that run on Vodka, and a gratuitous Kibo reference.
If you lack even a passing familiarity with cyberpunk, you may have trouble with some of the terms and concepts that are tossed around with little explanation. I'm not a particular fan of cyberpunk myself, but Maya is a an endearing, if cranky, narrator, and The Fortunate Fall is an engrossing, amusing story that becomes unexpectedly philosophical. I particularly recommend it to fans of Pat Cadigan.
I walked halfway up the hill, arranged myself facing the river, and started to prepare myself for contact. After all these years of having strangers in my head, it's still not easy. I scratched my nose, adjusted the camera moistware in the temporal socket at the side of my head, and made sure for the tenth time that I really did not have to go to the bathroom.
"Relax, will you?" Keishi whispered in my ear, from Leningrad. "'So Your Camera Has To Pee' is chapter two in the Basic Screening textbook, and heck, girl, I'm up to chapter four already."
-- Christina Schulman.
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