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Version 43 Paperback – October 28, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Set in Bompasso City, also known as Lawless City, on the planet Belladonna, cyborg narrator The Cop Version 43 is sent by the government of the Solar Neighbourhood to investigate a mass murder. Like many of the Exodus Universe planets, Belladonna was colonized by convicts, the insane, and the desperate; so a corrupt mayor and gang leaders who specialize in assassinations, prostitutes, and black-market organs are de rigueur. Version 43 deals swift (if faulty) justice, and is promptly blown up. Good thing Version 44 (same narrator, different version) is standing by! Meanwhile in deep space, the hive-minded Sand-Rats who live in six dimensions (three in space and three in time) have decided to declare interstellar war on humanity...or at least the original rat mind has. The five other species minds in the hive have literally been consumed by The First, depicted in the novel through a series of hilarious flow-charts graphic illustrations. As the various criminal elements burn through one Galactic Cop Version after another and the Hive Rats draw ever nearer, who will save humanity? British TV scribe Palmer's (Red Claw) Sci-Fi epic reads like Rudy Rucker collaborating with Olaf Stapledon on an Ed McBain novel with sweeping galactic history, silly (yet nearly believable) science, pitched battles, plenty of sardonic humor, and a serial investigation by a lonely cyborg.
About the Author
Philip Palmer lives in London and is currently at work on a new book set in the same universe as DEBATABLE SPACE. He has written for film, TV and theater. Find out more about Philip Palmer at www.philippalmer.net.
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Well that's how the book starts off, anyway. But Version 43 falls far short of Takeshi Kovacs or Lije Bailey as a futuristic crime stopper or vigilante. Instead the reader has to plough through 500+ pages of ham-fisted prose, in the midst of which the author repeatedly decides to rewrite the rules or throw in a plot twist that seems barely credible. This is all wrapped up in a milieu full of tacky laser beams and space ships. An example of the typical level of writing is something like: "The flying car swept down and our plasma cannons fired. Anti-aircraft guns fired back but the plasma blasts were absorbed by our force fields." or "All that remained was to kill every other human being in the Universe".
Overall, a somewhat silly story, lacking in much sophistication, insight or subtlety.
The writing is taut, flows without any trouble and delivers enough surprises to keep you interested. Since it is, after all, an action story rather than a treatise on the latest trends in cosmic theory, the treatment of 'quantum jumping' and the like is very lasseiz faire but valid enough to make the story work.
Very briefly, a galactic cybercop is sent to the planet Belladona to investigate a gruesome murder. On the face of it the planet is ruled by various criminal networks, but it contains deeper and darker secrets. Along the way you meet, almost as an afterthought, various alien races (written about by the author with much tongue-in-cheek humour and verve), and in the end, the 'real' rulers of Belladonna are unmasked and end up fighting a war with one of the alien races which has the ability to slow time down (or speed it up, depending on which side of the fence you are standing). Couple this with Version 43, your cybercop anti-hero whose murder investigation eventually becomes entangled with the bigger picture and who gets mind-wiped every time he is close to solving the murder mystery, and you have, to borrow a phrase, a rollicking good yarn.
I have given the novel only three stars as Mr. Palmer is, at least with this novel, not in the same camp as Greg Bear, Ursula K Le Guin, Harlan Ellison and Philip K Dick, and nor does he have the lyrical qualities of a JG Ballard or Ray Bradbury. I confess that I am also not sure whether the story is meant to be a good yarn with some humour, or unrefined satire with not enough humour. If you treat it as the former, you will not have cause for complaint
In the final analysis the story is like a stripped down version of something by Peter Hamilton.
This novel is a action comedy sci-fi film-noire cyberpunk detective novel mashup, opening with a murder in time tested manner.
I heartily recommend it. The author while munging all of these genres together, and playing up the various cliches, manages to write an entertaining novel that still has deeper elements that can be examined and thought about.
One can linger over the thought of Version 43's well intentioned but heavy handed pursuit of justice and the havoc it wreaks when it is not tempered by any compassion, all the while being entertained by the language and dialog which made me laugh out loud from time to time.
I read this book over about 24 hours, I could barely put it down... it was a great relief to read this novel and not have it be Book I of the First Trilogy of the Foo Cycle and have everything drag out in a process intended to suck hundreds of dollars out of my pocket over decades in a never ending poorly written melodrama that I'd be committed to to just see how it eventually ends.
This is a book with strong characterization, funny dialog, interesting ideas, and for the first time in a long time I delighted in every character.
Please understand that it's clearly intended to touch on many cliches, and does so in a fond way.
I bought this book based on reading a strong short story by this novelist, and I'm very glad I did. I'll happily buy whatever else he's got available to read now...
Now, with Version 43, we have a more restrained Philip Palmer. The craziness is still there; the inventiveness is just as head shake inducing; what is lacking is a sense of rushed hysteria. This is a good thing.
It is set in the Debatable Space universe. The protagonist is a cyborg cop with a human template (you know, because humans have that elusive intuition that computers can't mimic) who, at the start of the book, is labeled Version 43 (as in, he's died in the line of duty 42 previous times) and has been sent to the planet Belladonna to solve a grizzly murder.
The grizzly murder involves a group of people who've been killed in a very unorthodox way. They were undone and redone (at a quantum level) and when they were redone . . . well, Humpty Dumpty probably had a better chance.
Palmer may not be the best writer, but his books are the most fun I've had this year.