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Tor paperback £6.99
review by Duncan Lawie
Against Gravity is a technothriller set in 2096. Kendrick Gallmon is a former journalist who has survived a period as a political prisoner and experimental subject in a US nanotech lab hidden away in South America. As the book opens, he is leading a semi-normal life alongside other American refugees in Europe, but the ill defined nanotech implants that have been growing inside him since his days as a lab rat in the Maze are reaching a critical point as the book opens. At the same time, he's contacted by a dead fellow inmate; a survivor from that time - who is soon assassinated; and Draeger, a billionaire industrialist who Kendrick believes was behind events in the Maze. All three parties - four, including the assassins - want to involve Kendrick in their attempts to get into orbit. They are all trying to reach the Archimedes, a space station that Draeger and the US government built, but which was abandoned after the USA collapsed into civil war. These events are presented alongside a series of flashbacks that unravel Kendrick's time in the Maze. The only driving force Kendrick has left is the desire for Draeger to be proved culpable in the events in the Maze and the plot coalesces around him as he comes to this realisation.
Put together more carefully, these ingredients could have made a great book. Unfortunately, the piecemeal revelations cut against character motivations repeatedly, while inconsistent details are left hanging, people are shuffled on and off stage as plot conveniences, and there is never any real danger that the protagonist won't reach the last page. These are all serious problems when the novel is a thriller. The book gives the impression of being tightly time-lined, with date and location for each scene, but each day balloons. At one point, Kendrick and his friend Buddy land 15 kilometres from a target in the Venezuelan jungle - a couple of hours on foot, says Buddy (p. 344). Over the next few pages, we have "After an hour... after a couple of hours... some indeterminate time later." Then Buddy says "only five kilometres to go, and we're ahead of schedule. Maybe another couple of hours if we keep up this pace." This is a trivial example, but the characters repeatedly tell each other how short time is but still manage to fit in everything they want to do. As the story progresses, Kendrick is often helped by Buddy, who always accepts that Kendrick won't explain what he is up to. He quietly disappears when the plot calls for Kendrick to get into hot water, and then turns up again when succour is required. Kendrick's former girlfriend is used as a threat object, a bargaining tool, then shipped out of the plot to die off-stage when she becomes too inconvenient.
There are cool scenes and clever ideas splashed around this book, building up an interesting, if probably inconsistent world in which the action moves. However, much of this is irrelevant, distracting from the classic thriller plot trying to get out. The last few pages go some way towards redemption as events narrow to a point, but even here the nature of Kendrick's victory belies hundreds of pages that have gone before. Perhaps next time around, Gary Gibson can find a plot that suits the world he writes about, or a world that better suits his plot.
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