Next Door to the God of Love
Justina Robson's very accessible
fourth novel, Living
Next Door to the God of Love, is a stand alone follow up
to her hard science fiction novel, Natural
Living is Francine's
story. Bred to be a genius, she wants to escape her smothering home
life in Northern England. She cuts and runs but is quickly reduced
to living in a group house and dumpster diving for dinner. Life
goes from bad to fantastic when she meets a man who seems to be
everything she has ever dreamed of. However, Jalaeka is on the run,
too. His city has been destroyed and he is the sole survivor.
In Natural History humanity
came into contact with an alien intelligence named Unity. Unity
is something like a hive-intelligence or group mind that "translates"
(ie uploads) minds into it. The translated minds exist in a huge
intellectual sea knowing everything about every other mind in Unity.
There are also Stuffies: pieces of Unity (which can look like anything)
which, while they are alive, are independently conscious. When they
die their minds are translated back into Unity. Some Stuffies are
happy about this, some aren't. Occasionally when Unity has translated
beings, "splinters" are formed. These are like fractals so that
the whole of Unity is included within the splinter. Usually Unity
reabsorbs the splinter but recently one has gotten away.
works hard to make the two non-human intelligences, Unity and Jalaeka,
sympathetic. They exist outside of four-dimensional time (what Robson
calls Real Time and what we experience as time), and, especially
in the last fourth of the book, Robson explores their long struggle
against one another.
One of the difficulties of writing
post-human science fiction is that the humans (or the non-human
avatars) are limited to human-speed interactions (or another version
of the same problem: the author is limited to human readers). So
even while the god of love and Unity keep an eye on one another
in eleven dimensions, they still exist in Real Time as experienced
by Francine and her friends. Robson makes us aware of the characters'
disparate time senses and uses it skillfully. Sometimes weeks will
pass in a paragraph and sometimes hours take dense chapters of action.
This, and the complex character
interactions, make the book come alive in a way that carries the
casual reader through the discussions of eleven dimensional interactions
and into the hearts of the lives at stake. This is science fiction
for everyone: science geeks, post-singularity heads, technofetishists,
anthropologists, even fairy-tale fans get a look in late in the
book when Jalaeka's long history is explored.