Friday, 24 February 2017

Netwalking Space, by Joyce Reynolds-Ward - 3 Stars

Netwalking Space is a perfectly good science fiction novel that I personally didn’t tune into and I can’t put my finger on why that is. I mean, is it my fault I didn’t get into this or was it something to do with the writing? Nope, it’s a mystery, so I will probably just add a short review and advise everyone to read it for themselves and see if they get along with the story better than I did. As a reviewer, that's a complete cop out and admission that I’m rubbish but sometimes you have to be honest when you don’t particularly enjoy something despite not producing any reasoning why other people might feel the same way. I could be the odd one out. Maybe I’ll think of something as I write this.
 
The plan of the novel is sound: A seemingly alien device has caused havoc and then been overcome but those who did the overcoming had to take inhuman decisions which set them aside from the light. However, the alien tech has provided them with the opportunity, immediately after their death, to transfer their consciousness into a chip and thus extended families can interact together in this limitless new Netwalking Space (virtual reality). The netwalkers continue as legal entities, as they would if they were alive, plus their lifetime of knowledge and expertise guarantees their usefulness and continued power even after their cellular or corporeal death. As a new threat arrives, the netwalkers turn on their virtual heels to deal with it, or some of them do because there’s so much family bickering in this story that they have more hazards and personalities to overcome within their own clan than problems with the aliens, who act quite like hackers anyway but with the added tension of the ticking clock and a fleet jumping ever closer before they physically knock down Earth’s doorframe.
 
A proportion of this novel has been set aside for long family discussions and secretive revelations, as large scale concerns change to small scale and back, which interrupts the sci-fi ideas, so that’s only a problem if you were reading it for the sci-fi ideas, which I was. It’s a fairly long book for that reason, a sort of soap opera in virtual reality complete with matriarchal power banks and metallic shoulder pads. Even that’s unfair because it’s partly the story of transcending death by going into a virtual life, like Minecraft comes true, which is a sci-fi idea worthy of investigation, as in whether your virtual self has real life or is your soul dead and this is just a convincing illusion? What is life anyway in this place? Even then, would you mind so much if the humans got thumped by the aliens if you were safely playing in your virtual sand-pit with no skin to lose?
 
Given that, I understood the bit about continuing life in the wires very soon after starting the book but didn’t see why it needed as much as five hundred and thirty two pages to cover that idea in full. When you consider other books I’ve reviewed this year, one just now with about 40 ideas and an exceptional one with what must have been well over 100 a month ago, the difficulty with this book might have been the slow turnover of new thoughts and surprises in comparison with other novels I’ve read recently. If you remember the problem of the dog that didn’t bark, one thing I felt was missing was the general public’s reaction. What does the person in the street think of the netwalkers and how does their existence influence public culture? The netwalkers aren’t alone on the planet, so what about supporters, protesters and how they are reflected by the artists of the time? Has any comedian produced a joke about them? Nothing exists in isolation.
 
That’s it really, my incomprehensible review which doesn’t quite capture the book. It isn’t that I didn’t understand it. I also can’t predict that you wouldn’t like it. It’s just it didn’t capture my butterfly attention enough. Oooh look, quick chase it, a squirrel!

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