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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)
How is that as a selling point?
Keeping It Real opens with a not quite a chapter, not quite a prologue telling us what we need to know. In 2015 there was some sort of Quantum Bomb which detonated in Texas and which opened our world to five alternate / parallel worlds where there are elves, fairies, demons, the dead, and elementals. The other races insist they have known about us all the while.
The novel takes place in 2021 and we need to know that this is the state of being because this is not what the novel is about nor is it the story Robson is telling. But it is the setting.
Lila Black is possibly less than half human. The other half is machine. At the start of the novel we do not know why or how, only that she is assigned security for a rock band called the No Shows which consists of fairies singing backup and an elf as the lead singer. The No Shows are immensely popular and someone is trying to kill the elf, Zal. Lila, as it turns out, does not entirely trust elves and is barely comfortable in her own skin, such as it is. She is in control of her body and machine, but not entirely. There are glitches.
This is the starting point of Keeping It Real. The rest needs to be discovered to be believed. Robson keeps the novel moving at a reasonably fast clip with action, excitement, elf sex, imperfect cyborg machinery, inept fake [...] attempts, and a heroine who is broken more on the inside than on the outside...and this is the woman who must protect Zal, and elf who barely wishes to be protected.
Keeping It Real is perhaps the most original science fiction or fantasy novel I have read in some time and it is because Robson is able to blend the two genres so seamlessly that it is simply just good storytelling. Robson plays with familiar concepts (elves, cyborgs, different worlds, magic), but in doing so she puts them together in ways we haven't seen before. The elves here are aware of the stereotypes brought on by countless fantasy novels and Lord of the Rings (the elves crack on lembas bread so that the humans can't). Remember, this is our world, just altered in our future.
Keeping It Real is the first volume in a proposed trilogy and I cannot wait to see what Robson brings us next.
The Quantum Gravity series is set in a future where a disaster in 2015, the "Quantum bomb" has removed the barrier between the world inhabited by humans like ourselves, (formerly known as "Earth" and now as "Otopia") and other realms including those of Elves, Demons, and Faeries. The book starts six years later in 2021.
The heroine and central character is Special Agent Lila Black, who works for the human National Security Agency. (It is never made quite clear whether this is the USA's agency by that name or a united human body, but the omission doesn't matter as all the intrigue in the book involves different factions of Elves and other non-humans.)
Lila Black is a brilliant creation: having been severely wounded she has been rebuilt as a cyborg powered by her own miniature nuclear reactor, with rocket jets in her legs, more lethal weaponry than a squadron of main battle tanks, more electronic snooping equipment than a Hawkeye AWACs, and more computing power than IBM. Unsurprisingly the human mind inside this lethal killing machine is worried about to what extent she is still human and self-conscious about what she has become. Dduring the course of the book it becomes clear that she is still capable of everything that is best about being human.
The book is a strange mix of hard science fiction and fantasy, but it works well, and the author manages to include seriously weird events and somehow make them seem completely plausible while you are reading about them.
If you really don't like books with Elves, fairies etc you probably shouldn't read this. If you accept the premise that a bridge between worlds has allowed magic and advanced technology to co-exist, the book is internally consistent and good fun.
There is plenty of snappy, cynical humour in the book - anyone under forty reading this who wants to get one of the funniest jokes should look up the lyrics to the old song with the first line "I am the God of Hell-Fire" before reading it, but that was the only joke which most readers won't easily get.
Anyone who liked Firefly/Serenity, Blakes 7, the novels of Peter Hamilton, or those of Jack Chalker will almost certainly enjoy "Keeping it Real". (It's actually better than Chalker but I mention him because there are a lot of transformations.) Anyone else who likes either science fiction or fantasy is also likely to love this book.
Robson has a wonderful talent for humor and for revealing the zaniness of pop culture. Not only is this book littered with pop culture references (LOTR and Toy Story being just two of them), they're funny and not cliche. The characters, too, are exceedingly well-crafted, and no one gets out of this book unchanged. I'm still puzzling over a few characters' allegiances, but it's nothing I'm too upset over, because I'm content with my own interpretations.
I think my only real qualms with this book were certain action scenes that I couldn't visualize at all what was happening or why. I'd name the scenes, but they take place towards climatic moments of the novel, and I don't want to give anything away. So I won't. And because this book is first in a series, I suspect some of my questions will be answered later, so I don't have a problem with the ending.
Would I recommend this title? Most definitely. But you should probably have an affinity for elves, and you should also appreciate all the snark that goes along with the elf stereotype, because Robson mercilessly makes fun of her elf characters (the LOTR references are constant, and funny). But I think anyone who enjoys modern fantasy/pop fantasy will enjoy this. There's sex, love, and SF, but the SF shouldn't scare non-SF readers much. It's really icing on the cake, and Robson's characters make the story worth the rough patches.
This is basically an urban fantasy, so fans of that sort of thing with the female arse-kicker dealing with (and shagging) the pretty boy supernatural should like this. Or, for basic SF fans, this is very SF light. Just a light adventure romance, really.
Maybe, Kim Harrison meets Shadowrun with a small touch of Ghost in the Shell, for a bit of the manga feel. That is, it is not slow, dull, or overly girlie, so a definite plus from that point of view, and a goodly amount of action, whether, shooting, spells, or whatever.
A big Quantum accident gives access to supernatural realms, Elves, who are scammer scumbag nancy-boy magic types who can't rock, demons, elementals, and the dead realm, which is necromancer (brave ones) only.
So, of course, the human bodyguard with the tech stuff gets involved in something more complicated, inter and intrarealm politics and espionage with a side dish of assassination.
I'd call this a 3.25 I think.
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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