Skip to main content

Inscape (SF) - Louise Carey *****

I've never been a huge fan of dystopian novels or movies - life can be miserable enough without making us even more depressed - but there are exceptions, and Louise Carey's Inscape proved to be one of them. 

Broadly, SF dystopias fall into two categories - bangs and whimpers. In a bang dystopia there is a big, sudden catastrophe, often a nuclear war, a biological disaster (think The Death of Grass) or a touch of the aliens (War of the Worlds, The Day of the Triffids and many more). By contrast, whimper dystopias involve creeping change, traditionally political (1984), but ever since Pohl and Kornbluth's classic The Space Merchants, more likely to be the fault of corporates, which these days are usually a variation on the theme of today's IT giants.

Interestingly, Inscape involves both types of dystopia - so there has been an apocalyptic collapse (not entirely explained), but post-collapse it's the tech corporations that have taken over, with the central character Tanta being under the aegis of InTech - a young agent who is sent into action against the opposing corporation Thoughtfront (I kept reading this as 'Thoughtful', which probably doesn't give the right flavour). The setting gradually reveals itself to be a single, unnamed city divided by a river, which suggested a familiar location.

Carey gives us brilliantly driving action (so much so that I hardly noticed the book was written in the present tense, which I usually find jarring to read). However, there's a lot more to the book than the action. Tanta is a ward of the corporation, brought up her entire life to do their bidding. We get some really interesting psychological aspects here in the way that Tanta and her cohort have effectively been programmed for loyalty - and a striking revelation about the technology that supports this.

Tanta's near super-powered agent ends up in an odd-couple pairing with Cole, a neuroscientist/genius programmer whose memory has been partially wiped. He's over twice her age, unfit and unsuited to the danger of the fieldwork he's thrown into. This gives the storyline considerably more depth than is usually the case in a novel where the main character is only 17.

I was totally immersed in the world that Carey has created here and enjoyed every minute of it. Of course there are plenty of details familiar from other SF novels in terms of the characters having built-in comms and information technology (the 'inscape' of the title), but a combination of well-choreographed action scenes and thoughtful consideration of the impact of the mental manipulation and gradual realisation of what this means made for something more than a typical SF action adventure. I can't wait for the next book, featuring further revelations hinted at when we reach the end of Inscape.


Using these links earns us commission at no cost to you


Popular posts from this blog

The Quantum Menagerie - James Stone ***

This is a well-structured introduction to the mathematical basics of quantum mechanics, highly recommended for the right readers. Stone wisely, in terms of introducing the physics, avoids a purely chronological approach, instead aiming to fit together a picture in the way that makes it easiest for readers to get their heads around, building mathematically through the book. Stone does a good, solid job of this. In the book's preface, he tells us 'Books on quantum mechanics come in two basic formats: popular science books and textbooks. By contrast, this book represents a middle way between these formats, combining the informal approach of popular science books with the mathematical rigour of introductory textbooks... The material in this book should be accessible to anyone with an understanding of basic calculus.' The approach and the resultant impact on its audience is interesting. Providing something in-between popular science and a textbook is an interesting concept, but

Fundamentals - Frank Wilczek ****

In keeping with the trend of having seven this or ten that (Carlo Rovelli has a lot to answer for), physicist Frank Wilzek sets out to give us 'ten keys to reality'. As Wilczek explains in his introduction, the aim is to explore two themes: abundance and seeing things differently, with a childlike curiosity and lack of preconceptions. The author also points out that he aims to offer an alternative to religious fundamentalism. As he notes, many of his scientific heroes were devout Christians, and he 'aims to transcend specific dogmas, whether religious or anti-religious'. In essence there are two things going on in this book. On the one hand, each of the ten main sections covers a fairly straightforward aspect of physics and cosmology, though not from the viewpoint of a physical theory so much as context such as space, time, natural laws and so on - in this, it will be familiar ground to anyone who has read a popular science physics primer. But the aspect that lifts Wilc

A Song for Molly - Jeremy Bernstein ***

This is quite probably the strangest popular science/maths book I have ever read. There have been a good few attempts to combine science writing with fiction, as A Song for Molly does. It's a great idea, but from the results I have seen so far, extremely difficult to do well. What Jeremy Bernstein does is different from anything I've seen before, and in some aspects works very well. Let's start with what I love about this book. Every now and then I have lunch with the varied collection of individuals who once made up the Lancaster University Christmas University Challenge team. We're a very different bunch, and the group includes brilliant raconteurs. The lunches are a delight, in part because of the way the conversation ranges far and wide. There is a similar joy in Bernstein's range of interests as his book skips from the ideas of Wittgenstein to the attempts to decipher Linear A/B, from Cantor's ideas on infinity to game theory. It really feels like sitting