Book Review: Crashing Heaven

Crashing Heaven by Al Robertson

With Earth abandoned, humanity resides on Station, an industrialised asteroid run by the sentient corporations of the Pantheon. Under their leadership a war has been raging against the Totality - ex-Pantheon AIs gone rogue.

With the war over, Jack Forster and his sidekick Hugo Fist, a virtual puppet tied to Jack's mind and created to destroy the Totality, have returned home.

Labelled a traitor for surrendering to the Totality, all Jack wants is to clear his name but when he discovers two old friends have died under suspicious circumstances he also wants answers. Soon he and Fist are embroiled in a conspiracy that threatens not only their future but all of humanity's. But with Fist's software licence about to expire, taking Jack's life with it, can they bring down the real traitors before their time runs out?

Last year Gollancz published some stellar debuts, the big names included: Den Patrick, Jon Wallace and Edward Cox. This year Gollancz is continuing the streak with among others this book. Crashing Heaven by Al Robertson. Science Fiction has been a genre where the guidelines in writing are crystal clear. Several elements have to be in there, but what if you would just go that extra bit? Well that is when you end up with Crashing Heaven. It is a lot like your Space Opera story, but with a lot of added bonuses that produces a sharp story and a great sense of wonder. Al Robertson has written various short stories for magazine such as Interzone and Black Static, Crashing Heaven is his first full length book. 

The story of Crashing Heaven focuses on Jack Forster and Hugo Fist. Jack is war veteran who fought against the rogue AI's known as the Totality. What gave Jack a definite edge in the battle was his implant. Not an standard run of the mill arm of leg augmentation giving you strength. The implant that Jack received was another AI in his mind, the AI known as Hugo Fist. They were the perfect couple, together they didn't destroy minds they decimated them, they were the most feared ones. At the end of the war Jack was branded a traitor and this doesn't make his return to Station, humanities last refuge on the face of an asteroid, any easier. Jack was one of the lucky few who managed to survive he lost a lot of friends and wants to get to the bottom of some past events. But if no one is longer talking to you or people who you thought you new. Jack fought a dangerous game in the war but navigating through the dangerous alleys and webs on Station is perhaps even more dangerous. Because during the path of discovery of Jack to clear his name once and forever he uncovers a plot that isn't necessarily only planned for Jack but for everyone on Station. What these people hadn't taken into account were the wits of both Jack and Hugo and how determined these guys are. Both sides are in for challenges and surprises of their own. Jack and Hugo are a duo not to be underestimated by far. 

I have read lots of Science Fiction in the last quarter and over the last years and I have to admit that Crashing Heaven holds a definite unique sense to the story. This isn't purely a Space Opera with aliens in it, it's much, much more. From a hardboiled dark and grim cyberpunkish, thriller standpoint all through the sense of wonder of Deep Space. Al Robertson has build a great story that will shock and awe you. Yes I have to admit that some parts for me were overwhelming but give it time to sink in and you will appreciate the concepts even more. The writing style is slick and to the point, but this latter bit doesn't make any sacrifices when it comes to showing and exploring the world. Jack and Hugo both are great leads in showing the world itself. As I already mentioned Al Robertson doesn't show a world basked in sunshine and fluffy bunnies. Life on Station is hard, the grim atmosphere really made the story come together, given the history of mankind and the background of Jack. 

The lead characters are what made Crashing Heaven truly unique for me.  For starters Jack. Even though he is a battle hardened warrior and a man assumed to have no conscious, he can be quite delicate in his actions. But most of the time Jack doesn't have time to be delicate, he wants answers regarding the war and time for him is running out... and for Hugo time is running "in". Hugo the AI in Jack's head will eventually, when the contract runs out, gain Jack's body. The worst thing for Jack is that Hugo isn't afraid to mention this to him and he is sort of goading Jack that his time is getting short. basically Hugo is an ass. This taken aside, there is a very nice interplay in between Jack and Hugo, because when it all boils down to the basics once again they both need each other so it is better, if you want to get some answers, to rely on each other isn't it?    

When it comes down to technology, Science Fiction has always been a forerunner look at Star Trek, ok we cannot completely beam ourselves up but some other bits... In Crashing Heaven Al Roberston introduces some very cool technology aspects, first of all the implanting of AI's in peoples mind, pretty awesome right? The concept is shown to the fullest in the relation between Jack and Hugo. Added to this comes another high tech thing known as weavewear. A virtual reality community made reality, sort of. A lot of things happen in it, you get to see the ins and outs and how Hugo can interact with it. All in all, pretty awesome and most impressive.      
With Crashing Heaven Al Robertson has produced a very solid debut in Science Fiction. This subgenre of fantasy is all about pushing boundaries and this is precisely what  he shows in Crashing Heaven. The whole world building with the classical elements in Science Fiction combined with a noir and grim thriller cyberpunk setting results in something very unique. As I already said above, what makes this book just plain awesome are the characters: Jack Forster and Hugo Fist, these two, and namely Hugo is a piece of work. Another winning debut from Gollancz! 


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