While Keeping It Real by Justina Robson is her fifth published novel, she shows off the full strength of her imagination here and announces to those who may not have heard already that she is a major talent and that she will write a blend of science fiction and fantasy that demands to be read.
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 assassination 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.
Reading Copy provided courtesy of Pyr Books.