Bought eighteen months or so ago in what The Bookseller describes as “a major pre-empt ahead of an auction” that would probably have been hotly fought, Crashing Heaven is for my money among the most exciting debuts of the coming months.
According to Gollancz’s Simon Spanton, “Al Robertson [is] a writer completely in command of his material and totally at home in his chosen genre”—which is to say science fiction. “To find all this, fully formed, in the work of a debut writer is special indeed. It’s a long time since I’ve read a book that takes the familiar and fashions it into something that feels so fresh.”
With Earth abandoned, humanity resides on Station, an industrialised asteroid run by the sentient corporations of the Pantheon. Under their leadership a war has been raging against the Totality—ex-Pantheon AIs gone rogue.
With the war over, Jack Forster and his sidekick Hugo Fist, a virtual puppet tied to Jack’s mind and created to destroy the Totality, have returned home.
Labelled a traitor for surrendering to the Totality, all Jack wants is to clear his name but when he discovers two old friends have died under suspicious circumstances he also wants answers. Soon he and Fist are embroiled in a conspiracy that threatens not only their future but all of humanity’s. But with Fist’s software licence about to expire, taking Jack’s life with it, can they bring down the real traitors before their time runs out?
I’m told Gollancz’s in-house art directors toyed with a couple of approaches for the cover of Crashing Heaven, including a good, long look at Hugo Fist—“the most terrifying and enticing AI to grace SF since the works of [Alastair] Reynolds and Hannu Rajaniemi,” apparently—and a depiction of the so-called “cyber realm” before eventually settling on a striking showcase of the text’s setting: Station.
We have Dominic Harman to thank for the “full-on fantastic” cover above. That’s the very gentlemen whose eye-catching Alastair Reynolds artwork was recently rebuffed in favour of what I courteously called “a colourful new cover look” for the Blue Remembered Earth books, much to the chagrin of a couple of commenters—and yours truly, too.
In any case, Crashing Heaven might be Robertson’s first novel, but the man’s no novice: most notably, his 2009 novella De Profundis was nominated for the British Fantasy Award and shortlisted for the British Science Fiction Association’s Best Short Story trophy. “Gollancz publish the writers who taught me how to write,” Robertson said of the signing. “They use new worlds to dig into this one, which is exactly what I wanted to do with Crashing Heaven.”
Robertson’s debut is due out in the UK in June. I’ll be on board, obviously. Anyone else looking forward to meeting this Hugo Fist fella?
Niall Alexander is an extra-curricular English teacher who reads and writes about all things weird and wonderful for The Speculative Scotsman, Strange Horizons, and Tor.com. He’s been known to tweet, twoo.