Keeping It Real Paperback – Mar 6 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Life is anything but real in this entertaining fusion of SF and fantasy spiced with sex, rockin' elves and drunk faeries, the first of a new series, from British author Robson (Mappa Mundi). In 2015, the quantum bomb at Texas's superconducting supercollider blew a hole in spacetime's fabric, revealing "a total of five other realities" unknown to the human inhabitants of Otopia (formerly Earth). One of these is Alfheim, a home to elves. By 2021, Alfheim extremists, who despise Otopian technologies (and Otopians), have targeted Zal, a rebel rocker elf and his band, the No Shows, for thriving in a human realm. Death threats prompt the Otopian security agency to assign Lila Black, a nuclear-powered cyborg still adapting to her AI abilities, to Zal as his undercover guard. After Zal is kidnapped, Black travels to Alfheim, where she meets an old foe and tangles with a wicked necromancer. Deft prose helps the reader accept what in lesser hands would be merely absurd. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Robson lets loose and has fun with this tale, a rock 'n' roll saga including elves, magic, and cyborgs. After the Quantum Bomb of 2015, Earth proper has coexisted with alternate dimensions peopled by elves, demons, elementals, faeries, and the dead. Government agent Lila Black was nearly killed by elves while on a diplomatic mission, and now she is mostly machine. She has been assigned to guard the legendary band the No-Shows, especially lead singer Zal, who's precisely opposed to every elf stereotype out there, first and foremost in his music. Lila becomes trapped with him in a game caused by wild magic and, in the process of protecting him, discovers some of the complicated plots swirling just under the surface of Alfheim, the elves' dimension. Robson creates fascinating characters and worlds for them to inhabit, meanwhile sacrificing none of her other strengths and not once succumbing to the easy genre cliches, at least not without keen irony. Regina Schroeder
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Top Customer Reviews
The publication of a book like Keeping it Real also demonstrates just how diversified Pyr's stable of writers and novels will ultimately be. Once again, it's evident that their desire to publish works that are different from what's being released by the powerhouses continues to fuel Pyr's passion for both science fiction and fantasy. And although they made a name for themselves with thought-provoking books by authors such as Ian McDonald, Sean Williams, David Louis Edelman and many others, by publishing novels such as Joe Abercrombie's The Blade Itself and Justina Robson's Keeping it Real they show that Pyr is not averse to release more humorous and entertaining books.
When the Quantum Bomb exploded in 2015, the fabric of the universe was torn asunder and its different dimensions were revealed. The inhabitants of Earth must now coexist with elves, elementals, demons, faeries, and other such creatures and entities. Special agent Lila Black is now more machine than woman. She's been assigned to protect elfin rock star Zal, lead singer of the No Shows, the most popular band on the planet. Zal has been receiving death threats from elfin fundamentalists, and Lila must become his bodyguard.
The worldbuilding is interesting, and Robson's portrayal of the disparate realms is done with neat imagery.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Unlike in her previous, and far less successful, novel "Living Next Door to the God of Love," here Ms. Robinson establishes the rules of her world in the introduction, and she sticks to them. Readers who need a refresher course when the plot thickens need only turn back to that introduction, and they'll be up to speed.
The author sets the scene in her opening paragraphs of that introduction: in 2015 an explosion at a "superconducting supercollider" (gotta love it!) has torn a hole in the fabric of space time, which has in turn opened the paths to other realms. Old Earth, now known as Otopia, is visited by fantasy creatures, and trade routes have been established between the realms.
Lila Black, a semi-cyborg government agent (she's been rehabbed with cybernetic and mechanical add-ons after a previous caper), is assigned to duty as bodyguard for Zal, an Elf who's the lead singer of the Rock Band "The No Shows." His own people are trying to kill him. Our guys want to learn why the elven land (Alfheim) has closed its borders, and use the threats against Zal's life to bring Lila in.
The action starts quickly and builds to a fine, logical conclusion. Along the way the author has fun (you'll probably laugh in places) with fantasy conventions--she stretches them to the limits without breaking them--and she has a great time contrasting the flowery speech of the Elves' leader, Arie, with Lisa's street-gal patter.
Ms. Robson also has some fun with gender, too. The proactive female bodyguard falls (with the aid of some magic) for the relatively passive male diva (divo?) Their scenes together are hot--great fun.
The book (handsomely designed large-sized paperback on good paper) is billed as "Quantum Gravity, Book 1," but it's complete in itself. It won't leave you hanging from a cliff, but you'll probably be anxious for the followup, which is to be called "Selling Out."
Robson hasn't so much blended SF and fantasy tropes as she's smashed them together in a supercollider. She has filled her story with myth, legend, deep metaphysical exploration, gestalt psychology, scientific speculation and sweet sexuality without slowing down the roller coaster ride.
Justina Robson's Keeping It Real has an intriguing premise: a nuclear bomb explosion in 2015 opened up the fabric of the universe and made five parallel worlds accessible to each other. Until then, humans had thought that elves, elementals, and demons were the stuff of fantasy novels, but now they must figure out how to live at peace with all these other species, not to mention the magic they wield.
Unfortunately, that's about all the good I can say about Keeping It Real. The characters are shallow and unbelievable, especially the protagonist. It's hard to accept that the government has spent billions of dollars to rescue, rehabilitate, and train Lila to be one of their best superweapons because Lila is pathetic. It's easy to see why she was nearly killed; she is emotional, weak-willed, unprofessional, and lacks judgment -- traits that don't seem to get better after she's given machinery to help regulate her internal states. She's constantly angry, resentful, irritated, nervous, flustered, and always on the verge of a meltdown. While on this assignment, she is less aware of what's going on around her than she is about how she feels about the male characters, how they feel about her, and which female characters might be jealous of her. She quickly and unthinkingly falls for two different men, letting her "heart" make important decisions about who she should trust and to whom she should give secret information. And she's a lot more worried about her relationships than her job. Some special agent.
Another problem with Keeping It Real is the "science." Robson seems to be asking us to take the science seriously, suggesting a rational basis for parallel worlds, discussing the way that Lila's machinery can control the release of hormones (something it doesn't seem to do very well, I guess) and split her consciousness so she can act sentry while sleeping, etc. This is something I'd normally enjoy, but Robson just gets stuff wrong -- basic stuff like confusing brain EEG patterns while sleeping and waking. This is material that's been in almost every high school psychology textbook for decades and is easily checked at Wikipedia. Getting it wrong really kills your credibility. Mixed with the "science" is the "wild magic" which is seen, on Lila's electromagnetic display, as sparkly pink and purple swirls in the ether... don't get me started.
I might have been able to forgive the aforementioned problems if the plot had entertained me, but it was dull and, frankly, often ridiculous. Where it tries to be funny or profound, it's just silly or trite. It's not even suitable for a juvenile audience because of the sex which we know is going to occur because Lila gets bound by an Elfin "Game" based on "sexual forfeit" within a few minutes of meeting Zal the rockstar. She didn't even know the rules of these common Elfin Games before she took the assignment and I guess her agency didn't bother to warn her. (Maybe they thought it was as unbelievable as I did.)
It really pained me to finish Keeping It Real. I only kept on so I could review it, though I admit that I skimmed parts by speeding up the playback of the audiobook to three times normal narration speed. The reader, Khristine Hvam, was fine, though her male voices don't sound masculine and she reads the word "across" as "acrost" which made me cringe. But I have to give her credit for not snickering when she read the words "His body was poetry in her mouth..."
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