Selling Out by Justina Robson
Book Two of the Quantum Gravity Series
Published by Gollancz, May 2007.
ISBN: SBN-10: 0575078634
Review by Mark Yon / Hobbit.
And so to Book Two of Justina Robson’s entertaining series. (Book One, Keeping It Real, was reviewed here by me last year.)
It’s a brave author who calls a book Selling Out, particularly when there were some rumbles made about this series doing just that on the release of the first book.
I enjoyed Book One a lot myself. What struck me most on reading Selling Out is that the second book in the Quantum Gravity series does anything but that.
After the fast-moving pyrotechnics of the first book, this one is a much more sedate affair. It is weirder and darker, but with the intelligence of the author still present.
OK: Quick Recap. It is 2021. The accidental release of the Quantum Bomb changes the world – no, universe – as we know it. Six overlapping and partially connected realities are created. Earth is altered in many ways, some subtle, others less so. The planet becomes Otopia, where magic is real and figures of fantasy – sprites, ghosts – now really exist. There is also Zoomenon, the land of the elements, where things are just so much brighter and Elementals exist. Thirdly, there is Alfheim, an Eden-like paradise and also the land of the elves, currently the participants of an uneasy alliance with Otopia. Fourthly, Demonia, (from where – you guessed it, demons come from), adept in magic. Fifthly, there is mysterious Thanatopia (the ‘land of the dead’, from which no human has ever been known to return from), and lastly, Faery, issuing tourist visas since 2018.
You really do need to read Book One before Book Two, though I’m sure you can follow things without. Selling Out continues straight into the events immediately after the end of Keeping It Real. Lila is debriefed by her superiors about the events of the first, without being told about the andalune of Dal, a dead necromancer living inside Lila, nor the fact that Lila is now the girlfriend of Zal, the renegade Royal elf, whose unorthodox manners allegedly threaten the demolition of Elven society and the uneasy truces existing between all of the Realms.
Lila’s new mission is to find out about Zal’s mysterious past, as details about his earlier life may hold the answer to his isolation. Zal has managed to change his andalune – the magical body all Elves possess – to incorporate the oppositional magicks of Alfhelm and Daemonia, which is something very rare. Because of this, Lila is set the task of finding out how, when and why Zal was changed and what it means to the Demons, the Elves and everyone else on the aetheric block.
What we do in this new book is, having set up the situation and the characters in the first book, move away from Otopia to look at the worlds of Daemonia and Zoomenon. We also get to look at Zal’s and Lila’s past, both of which reveal aspects about the lead characters that suggest that this is not a light, fluffy, throwaway series but something with a little more depth and substance. Not everything is what you expect. Lila goes back to her home which she has not contacted since before her accident/transformation. Zal goes to Zoomenon and realises that elven history may not be what he thinks it was.
Book One was summarised by me as a romance, though parts of the first were not exactly laugh a minute. This is darker. Much darker. Though there is still a sense of humour there, some of the events in this book are rather bleak. Lila’s psychological damage is still evident, if not prevalent here, and clearly affect events in the book. There are deaths and life-changing decisions here, things that are decidedly not light.
Again, as with Book One, although Selling Out is a relatively short book, this is not a book short of intricate concepts. Justina’s complex worldbuilding and societal backgrounds take some following, but they are carefully thought through, if at times a little baffling. Events in Zoomenon concerning elemental magic and the andalune had me scratching my head a little, though there is a logic to events there. Daemonia is a lot of fun, though not as amiable as you might first think.
This is not a book as action-packed as the first, and unlike the first, one pretty much based in Fantasy, but it does have some intriguing ideas which no doubt will be examined further in the next book (or books). The series is clearly one with a logic that deserves the readers attention and I will continue to keep reading the series.
Selling Out? Definitely not.
Mark Yon / Hobbit, April 2007