Monday, October 31, 2005

Remaking the God of Love

I'm not sure what to make of Justina Robson's latest novel, Living Next Door to the God of Love . It is undeniably a fantastic read and stylish. It is undoubtedly true. The problem for me was that I needed to be around a quarter the way through before the universe fell into place for me. Perhaps it is just me.

It is a profoundly human novel in its intent, a delicate dissection of human relationships at its core. In the city of Metropolis you can be who you want to be. Join the carnivalesque parade of characters and redefinitions of the self. Lose yourself in the city. Its a familiar theme really to sf and (arguably) strains of literature (Tom Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities and M. John Harrison's writing) and it speaks of an urban truth, grounding the reader in the grittiness of life whilst promising and, to a certain extent, delivering the promises made like pillow kisses.

This speaks to our need to identify ourselves in relation to other beings and genres. We rarely allow ourselves to just be and exist. Rather it is comforting to place ourselves into the hierarchy and so when the Splinter arrives, the Unity (the post-human consciousness which translates people into its way of existing/thing/being) is threatened as it allows difference and very human emotions - love, lust, desire. Robson allows politics in since the Splinter cannot recognise its own frailties and weaknesses. It is splintering itself, creating shards around the universe. Robson joins in the conversation of hard sf's desire for uplift, that a singularity will give humans a better life. Unity cannot deal with the Splinter, or even converse with it, because it is allows for human emotion. Indeed, it thrives on it.

Francine is out to find love but wanders into the world of fairytale. Not the Disney you'll immediately know but the maerchen. Bluebeard is indeed dangerous in this world as are the vampires. (Robson updates the nineteenth century mode of the fantastic into the twenty first century with aplomb.) Jalaeka is busy remaking himself as well. He's been many things in his time but is sure to be more as he searches for his own path to Enlightenment.

Part of the book, I believe is about language. One of the things about sf is that it hasn't really explored how other beings, mainly animals, communicate and the consequence this has for language. Consider bees and their dances which communicate the location of the honey or ants and their various chemical languages. None of these are experienced in the same way as speach and this underlies part of Unity's problem with the Splinter. It cannot find a way to converse with it since it has no common ground on which it can experience communication. Unity needs to change, or adapt, at a fundamental level and this is what the Splinter offers. The book has a joyous way of suddenly stopping the narrative to allow the reader fully into the experiental world of its characters and this really brings them alive.

Justina is a great stylist, just look at Natural History - to my mind a wonderfully succinct novel which told a strong story and read very well. I found the easiest way into the book was to access it through the various character's names and then work from that point upwards. Perhaps in this new novel she was trying too hard on how to say it and somewhere the story got slightly lost.

It needs a reread and no doubt I'll rediscover stuff in it and rethink my experiences. I'm still of the opinion that Justina is one of our finest stylists, in any genre, but this one may not be her best.


Post a Comment

<< Home

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 England & Wales License.