After finishing Marked, I thought I’d go ahead and try something a little bit different. Something that didn’t involve vampires and leaned a touch towards the sci-fi. So I asked around and was recommended this book called “Keeping It Real” by Justina Robson. I read the first chapter and it’s positively grating. Maybe it’ll be a smidge better than the usual fare I rip apart around here.
So we begin with a prologue where the author is simply vomiting facts at us. They’re literally laying the ground work for why their little universe works the way it does like they’re writing a report for school on the bus the day it’s due.
This is pretty common among sci-fi hacks. They feel the need to tell you everything as if they spent the past decade building a new world from the ground up but know you don’t have time to read a fictional encyclopedia so here are the CliffsNotes before you dive in. Which is positively lazy, in my opinion. If Frank Herbert can throw crazy terms, oddball religions and babble about clairvoyance at you without stopping the flow of the narrative then there’s no excuse for this.
And someone arguing with me, like myself, would say that’s not fair. Maybe this is a piece of fiction that focuses on the world to deliver a powerful message or an idea. To myself, I say you are a moron who’s being far too charitable. I can tell, from the jacket copy alone, that this is supposed to be a character driven story. And when characters are the focus, you’d better damn well learn to weave details into the narrative.
So anywho, we start off talking about an explosion that happened in the past/future. See it happened in 2015 when they brought a super collider online. Oh, pardon me. It was the superconducting supercollider that caused it. This made me grind my teeth as the planned facility was never built and Robson should know that as the project was cancelled in ’93 and this book was published in ’06.
Now to be fair, I see why she used it. The Desertron—a name I much prefer—would have been a bit larger that the Large Hadron Collider and been online much sooner had funding held out. So this is set in a fictional universe where the U.S.congress decided that science was worth investing in. This caused an explosion sometime in the past/future they call the “lost year”.
I really don’t know where this comes from. I see it a good bit in anime and crappy sci-fi where some single explosion somehow wipes out records and history and no one is able to find a log detailing what’s going on. Considering how prevalent social networking is I can’t believe there wasn’t one person nearby who didn’t witness the ‘slplosion and decide to journal about what was happening.
This explosion was magical because it did something to the quantum. That’s not quite how Robson puts it but hack authors throw the word quantum around more than nanomachines. It’s like they all read Timeline and the only thing they took away from there was ‘quantum equals magic’. So now there is a doorway between multiple universes. There’s Elfland, Demonland, Fairyland, Otopia(formerly Earth), and Deathland. Ok, the other four are really Alfheim, Demonia, Faery and Thanotopia. Can you guess who lives where? Oh yes, and there’s a realm of magic that the demons and elves call the Aetherstream and humans call I-Space because. Because why? Because Robson says.
Robsonhad better not tell me that these realms where named by the inhabitants. That would be that dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. ‘Welcome to humetopia, home of the humans!’ See, because the dominant culture would want to name their world after themselves like ‘Tedtopia’ or some such. But then she feeds us details about each realm.
The elves are snobs who don’t like visitors and machinery doesn’t work there. The demons are strong spell casters and they work with humans. The fairies love tourists and issue visas like they’re going out of style. Oh, and none of them recognize the “quantum bomb” as humans officially call it and say they’ve been visiting people for a long time.
That throwaway line about machines not working has got me wondering. What the hell is it with authors doing that? Jim Butcher does that in the Dresden Files and it doesn’t make any sense. If things that work off of scientific principals stop working in the presence of magic that means everyone would die. People couldn’t go to Elfland because their blood would stop carrying oxygen. That is, of course, unless everyone has a little bit of magic and that takes over to make things work when you’re there. That has its own implications but I’m curious to see how the Dobson plays with it.
Then the author, addressing us directly, says that a year ago the elves got real dickish and closed their borders. Now, in the book’s year of 2021, people are still trying to open up talks with diplomacy but that’s not working. They tell us there’s a lot of tension between the elves and everyone else.
Why is there tension? Who cares if the elves aren’t taking visitors, to hell with them. It’s not like they export the cure for cancer and now we don’t get any. Or do they? Being as these are going to be the magical beings that raise their noses at anything with round ears I sincerely doubt it. Hey elves, maybe if you stopped being a bunch of pricks people wouldn’t hate you.
maybe she meant that electrical things don’t work there, which means your criticism is still quite valid, but i find the imagery of yoyos and slingshots not working hilarious.
and yay! more elves! apostrophes and umlauts ahoy!
Don’t forget names that are “unpronouncable in your language” and ancient mystic mumbly jumbly.
As terrible as I’m sure this book is going to be, I’m always glad to see an author who admits that their elves are complete dicks.
Sure, if you said elves were wonderful and nice and then actually wrote them as wonderful and nice, that would be fine too. I just hate Paolini-style authors who can never stop heaping praise on their master race.