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Falling
Debbie Moon
Honno paperback £6.99

review by Christopher Geary

Jude is a ReTracer, a government agent for a special department in charge of policing the streets, retrospectively. She travels in time by psi power, to takeover her younger self and steer events towards a variant timeline, where the bad things never happened after all. When Jude finds herself stuck in a bewilderingly complex puzzle of fate, with tragic consequences increasingly likely, she soon begins to doubt her psychic instincts and her sanity. Especially because she's being stalked across the decades by a mystery blonde assassin, and has discovered her identity and actual existence are threatened by unknown 'superhuman' time-travellers. Shifting back and forth through her changeable past, the growing crisis of an untenable present, and facing the prospect of no future at all, Jude is drawn to revisit key moments of her life in order to solve her ultimate case...
   Debbie Moon is creative in many fields, including screenplays and TV scripts. She's an accomplished short story writer (under pen-name of Ceri Jordan), book reviewer and film critic, and now a first-time genre novelist. With her interest in cinema, it was probably inevitable that this book would contain some references to movies. The Terminator is mentioned in the text itself, as that famous sci-fi thriller's scenario appears tangentially relevant to the plot of Falling, but the genre films that Moon's tale better resembles are TimeCop and, perhaps more significantly, Slaughterhouse-Five. Indeed, it's clear that Kurt Vonnegut's fantastical satires are just as much a knowing influence on this kind of post-cyberpunk material as the great Philip K. Dick's stylised intrigues.
   That said, there's certainly a great deal more going on here than straightforward mass media allusions and subgenre derivation. By clever means of the time-surfer episodes, Moon's revelations about her protagonist's history - from childhood poverty in a rough district to troubled adult social life in a futuristic London almost deserted by a societal migration and years of gang wars - and the whole backstory to Jude's predicament hits us with the compelling urgency of on-the-spot description. The exhilaration level of both rollercoaster (unnerving twists) and ghost train (amusingly spooky surprises) ride is maintained throughout, and there's no extraneous wordage to slow the pace.
   There's not a great deal of pseudo-science here, and almost no hard-SF gobbledegook, but the author's grasp of the basics is assured. As time paradox avoidance seems probably unenforceable, regulatory control rests with a sternly worded 'Recommendation', and relies upon ReTracers' integrity and a hint of coincidental paranoia. This is one of the book's strengths. As genre entertainment, it relies on characters, and their interactions with one another in a borderline dystopia, rather than allow the narrative to get bogged down in technical explanations about how psi time-travel works. With its emphasis on ethical dilemmas, amoral villainy and dangerous confrontations, there's nothing much in Falling to divert our attention from the unwilling heroine's plight, and we re-live all her scrapes and hassles and triumphs along with her.
   One of the finest British SF debuts since Jeff Noon's Vurt (1993), this is an outstanding novel of superb writing that unites solid characterisation and imaginative plotting with plenty of sympathetic humour (yet Moon's wit is often as dry as charcoal and sometimes nearly as dark), exciting chase thrills and moments of graphic horror. Move over Justina Robson, Gwyneth Jones and Alison Sinclair. There's a new voice among the top ranks of British women SF writers.
Falling by Debbie Moon

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