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Keeping It Real
Justina Robson
Victor Gollancz, 279 pages

Keeping It Real
Justina Robson
Justina Robson lives in Leeds in Yorkshire, UK. She began writing as a child in the 70s. Her short fiction has appeared in various magazines in the UK and the USA. Her first novel, Silver Screen, published in 1999, was nominated for the Arthur C Clarke Award and the British Science Fiction Association Best Novel Award. Her second novel, Mappa Mundi, won the Writer's Bursary.

Justina Robson Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Living Next Door to the God of Love
SF Site Review: Silver Screen
SF Site Review: Silver Screen
SF Site Review: Natural History
SF Site Review: Natural History
SF Site Review: Mappa Mundi
SF Site Interview: Justina Robson

Past Feature Reviews
A review by David Soyka

A particularly awful television series from the 70s was The Bionic Woman, a spin-off of the equally dreadful The Six Million Dollar Man. The shared premise: from the verge of death, the protagonists are rebuilt with cyborg implants, consequently becoming indebted to place their technologically enhanced bodies in the service of a secret intelligence agency. I don't know if Justina Robson is familiar with this series, but that's what happens to the heroine of the ironically titled Keeping It Real. Lila Black was brutally tortured; what was left of the young woman, primarily the head and torso, has been surgically merged into a nuclear-powered and AI-augmented mechanical body. Moreover, she's outfitted with an array of weaponry and associated gizmos that would make James Bond's "Q" gadgeteer supply master positively green with envy. And at 21, Lila is also in her sexual prime, which adds to the already considerable psychological dilemma of being half-human, half-machine.

Lila is therefore more Peter Parker than Superman, ill-at-ease with abilities that, though well suited to her job as a special agent, would seem to make her a freak. However, she lives in a somewhat freakish reality. Something called a Quantum Bomb has ripped apart hitherto inseparable dimensions so that magic has leaked into reality. More precisely, "reality" now comprises six realms: Earth (now called Otopia), Zoomenon (home of the elementals, shimmering energy embodiments of the periodic table), Alfheim (land of the elves) and Demonia (fire-breathing fiends), Thanatopia (where no one living has ever visited and returned) and Faery (you guessed it).

Black has been assigned as a body guard to Zal, an elf who is the lead singer of a popular rock band in Otopia. Problem is that elves don't typically hang out in Otopia and live amongst humans; Zal has been getting death threats for betraying his race. Black's bodyguard role is really a cover for her to determine not just who is threatening Zal, but the elf's actual cross-realm agenda. Complicating matters is that Lila's physical predicament were caused by the torturous ministrations of an elf named Dar, whom Lila believes to be one of the potential assassins. Even complicating things more, Lila has let herself get trapped in a "Game," an elvish pursuit in which flirting could have personally disastrous consequences for the loser.

All of this unfolds without taking itself too seriously. Indeed, a large part of the fun is how Robson plays with the various genre clichés she's woven together. For example, here's one joke taken at the expense of Tolkien's famously ponderous dialogue:

"Come," he beckoned, looking back and glancing at the sky where the sun was going down. Shadows lengthened. "Night falls like stone at this time of year in Alfheim. We should find some shelter and rest soon. Some hours are not good to be abroad in this part of the country, and one of them is fast approaching."

"You make it sound extra spooky when you say it like that," she grumbled gently, following him closely. "Why can't you say, it's getting dark, let's take a break, and by the way, the neighbourhood could you some work. That sounds much less imposing, you know?"

On her web site, Robson points out that her intention here is to put together "all the things I like about Science Fiction and Fantasy. It is a shameless romp. It is fun from start to finish. If some serious themes have crept into it, that was probably accidental and must have happened when I wasn't looking (ahem)."

Robson must also be a fan of the genre tradition of sequels, as this is Book One in the Quantum Gravity series. While this opening salvo pretty much stands on its own, it does end with Special Agent Black being host for yet another augmentation. It'll be interesting to see where this additional permutation figures in to further adventures. If nothing else, it'll make the sweaty sex scenes even more intriguing, from a cross-species, cross-contraptional perspective.

Copyright © 2006 David Soyka

David Soyka is a former journalist and college teacher who writes the occasional short story and freelance article. He makes a living writing corporate marketing communications, which is a kind of fiction without the art.

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