Keeping It Real by Justina Robson


Published by Pyr
ISBN 1-59102-538-9
March 2007
337 Pages

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Keeping it Real is the latest High Concept Fantasy by Justina Robson to appear on US shores, about a year after the UK published the book, reviewed by SFFWorld’s Hobbit here. In this novel, the first of a series, Robson takes a cyborg bodyguard and assigns her to a rock band fronted by a High Elf. That’s the TV Guide version, so to speak.  Those who have read Justina Robson in the past (and quite frankly most of Pyr’s output) should know, the words that support the snapshot description are far greater than any simple summation can provide.


In the not too distant future the Quantum Bomb changed reality, bridging the gap from the real world earth to worlds thought only to be fantasy.  Earth, now known as Otopia, is connected to a number of fantastical worlds.  These include a realm of Elementals, a realm of Elves, a realm of Demons, a world of Death, and the realm of Faery. Communication and relations across these worlds is tenuous, at best. As dicey as race relations are today, Robson extrapolates this tension onto her world and characters.  While it is a serious issue, she adds humor along the way to keep the story relatively upbeat.


Sounds like a “crossover” fantasy with elements or people of our world traversing into “fantasy” worlds, but as I intimated earlier, there’s more. Remember the cyborg bodyguard? Right, it seems technology has advanced enough in Otopia to allow for a cyborg that would give Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator a run for its money, except Lila Black is more human and has much more emotional baggage.  One of Lila’s major problems with being a cyborg is that her family thinks she is dead, she can have no contact with them because of the covert nature of her job.  She was brought back to life as an atomic-powered cyborg, with limbs of metal. Once a beautiful woman, she is now more metal than flesh, so her mind is to say the least, a bit shuffled.


Lila is assigned by her government to guard the No Shows, specifically their front man, er front Elf Zal Ahrim.  Zal is a prince and something of an expatriate and an outcast, on the surface; essentially the petulant royal youth.  He has shunned life in Alfheim for the less magical world of Otopia as a rock star.  It is something his racial brethren can’t quite understand.


So Ms. Robson gives us two characters who are both out of sorts, in one way or another, and the inevitable happens.  They find themselves attracted to each other and the Game ensues.  This would all be well and good, but attempts are made on Zal’s life, and a roller-coaster ride begins.


Clearly, Robson can pack quite a bit into the pages of her story; the book is less than 350 pages for all the cool ideas and twisting plot between the covers. On the surface, the story may seem like a slash fiction gone crazy, but somehow, Robson makes it work and presents a cohesive, if complex world.  My only minor complaint is that in a few instances, the writing was uneven and less engaging than through the majority of the book.  I also would have liked to see a bit more on the Quantum Bomb, but the story (rightfully so) was more concerned with the present of the Zal and Lila’s life. With her star on the rise in the genre, Keeping it Real will only propel it further.


© 2007 Rob H. Bedford

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