Review: Crashing Heaven by Al Robertson

Posted by DarkChaplain at 3/07/2016
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?
Getting tired of Black Library reviews? Me too. Here's a sci-fi gem from 2015, the sequel of which I am highly anticipating!

The Story:
"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?"
The Review
When I first saw the cover for Crashing Heaven revealed by Gollancz, I knew I had to give this novel a try.

And oh boy, am I glad I did, for what I found was an exceedingly enjoyable trip into a future dominated by godlike AIs running humanity's lives according to their own schemes and personalities; a future where people live in constant contact with the Weave, a massively improved augmented reality version of the internet, which turns an otherwise bleak vision of the future into paradise - as long as they are playing by the rules of their godly Patrons and don't get excised from the privileges of staring at a hypercommercialized illusion of life.

Our protagonist Jack is one of the few who fell from grace in this society. After surrendering to an AI collective he was tasked to exterminate, using his mind-bonded hacker AI "puppet" Hugo Fist (an incredibly vile fellow, I might add!), he finally returns home, yet is still leashed by InSec, his former employers and local police force, and cut off from the Weave. Fist, too, is caged to limit his potentially destructive, chaotic powers.

But Jack isn't going to play by the new rules laid out for him. He is determined to uncover the roots of the conspiracy that led to him being exiled and sent to war, and topple the Patron god responsible for it all.
His time is running out, however, as, in this vision of the future, copyright law and terms of service have become the chains by which mankind is leashed. Jack's license for Fist's software is about to expire, and with nothing else to pay with, he will have to surrender his earthly presence to the cruel little AI.

You can tell from that alone that there is a lot of tension in Crashing Heaven, from start to finish. While Jack has come to terms with his death-countdown, he would not accept going out quietly, without his tormentors being exposed.

What that results in is a compelling cyberpunk thriller that spans not only the physical reality, but also the augmented realm of the Weave, including plenty of metaphorical representations of things we do even today on the net.

There are truckloads of personal drama to be found here, too; a love story, betrayal, family relations, friendship, philosophical questions about virtual beings and their rights, social classes and structures - I was amazed at how many themes Al Robertson managed to fit into one coherent story and still deliver it in an exciting and even funny way.

As vile as Hugo Fist may be (note: he also uses swear words as if they were punctuation), he is still quite charming when he wants to be. I massively enjoyed seeing his bond with Jack develop from being intitially gleeful at the thought of taking over and killing Jack, as per licensing agreement, to regretting that he cannot avoid doing so even if he wanted.

There was so much character development to Jack and that little shit, it made me wonder what else Robertson could come up with to top this duo he created. They really grew on me over the course of the book, along with the other characters' eccentricities.

If he wanted to, Al Robertson could probably write a dozen more stories set in this rich science fiction setting and still have things to explore, although Crashing Heaven did a fantastic job to paint a picture of a future that is worth dreading and anticipating in almost equal measure, for various reasons.
What seems to be paradise for a great many people is actually a facade for a terribly uncomfortable place to live. It rewards the obedient and exiles the inconvenient.
Seeing through Jack's eyes worked wonders to show the wild contrasts within human society, while still leaving the reader with the question whether or not the deception is worthwhile from a moral standpoint.

Crashing Heaven is a treasure trove (or root server?) of amazing ideas that snap together in a thrillingly intelligent narrative that does exactly what the title claims. It pulled me into its world, and I am sad to leave it behind already.
Al Robertson will be an author I'll look out for in the future. If his next novel is even half as exciting as this one, I'm sure to get my money and time's worth ten times over.

Crashing Heaven on Goodreads

About the Author

I'm known as DarkChaplain across the internet, and call myself a passionate gamer and book enthusiast. I have been blogging mostly about games for a couple of years, but finally found my way to reviewing a different medium: Books. Honestly, I prefer that job so far.
Follow Me on Twitter @TheDarkChaplain


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