“The past is further away than the furthest galaxy.”
So a few months ago I read and reviewed Adam Roberts’ By Light Alone, and while it was moderately entertaining it wasn’t, you know, terrific.
But, right at the back, there was a sample chapter from Jack Glass (because Advertising), and that I loved (as in, go-out-and-buy-immediately). And so here we are today.
Before I start the review, can I just dwell for a minute on the name “Jack Glass”? Just the sound of it tells you you’re in for a treat. It’s a badass name, a steampunk-y name, a name that speaks of dark fables and murders in the night and charisma. And, you know, it doesn’t disappoint.
Because Jack Glass is a murderer. More precisely (“and at all costs we must be precise“), he’s a murderer in space, in a world in which the pressure of population growth has forced humanity out into the Solar System, to live on planets and in hollowed-out asteroids and, most importantly, in shanty bubbles, precarious plastic spheres orbiting the Sun, humid hells without privacy or security where the vast majority of the poor live off genetically modified algae and recycled water.
Jack Glass, it appears, wants to change this world. And he’ll stop at nothing to do it.
The novel is presented as three murder mysteries:
One of these mysteries is a prison story. One is a regular whodunit. One is a locked-room mystery. I can’t promise that they’re necessarily presented to you in that order; but it should be easy for you to work out which is which, and to sort them out accordingly. Unless you find that each of them is all three at once, in which case I’m not sure I can help you.
This is on page one. And already, I’m hooked. The narrative voice is terrific: laconic, dramatic, even poetic in places as the story romps from prison asteroid to futuristic mansion to shanty bubble, taking in spaceships, champagne supernovae, FTL and zero gravity on the way. It’s supposed, according to the author, “to collide together some of the conventions of “Golden Age” science fiction and “Golden Age” detective fiction”; I don’t know about the detective fiction bit (what is Golden Age detective fiction, anyway?), but certainly the more science-y elements of the story reminded me strongly of Asimov in the way that they are completely logical but make no sense at all realistically (why, of course you can change the speed of light! just like that!). Personally, I quite like this in an SF story, but it might annoy others.
Stylistically, it’s a clever little book: answers hide in plain sight, genres dodge about, events change and grow as you look at them from different perspectives. It’s a story about power, and freedom, and identity, and it’s also REALLY AWESOME. Jack Glass is, I think, one of my favourite characters ever, and not just because he has a terrific name. And the ending…
…well, without spoilers, it’s an ending that works, and feels true. And I’m happy with that.