When I first heard about L.X. Beckett’s debut novel, the near-future science fiction sprawling cross between espionage thriller, family saga and romance that is Gamechanger, I wasn’t that excited. The cover copy is decidedly bland compared to the contents—so I found myself surprised and delighted when I started reading Gamechanger and couldn’t put it down.
Beckett sets their novel in a world where climate change, and the human responses to climate change necessary to keep the planet habitable, have resulted in major changes in society. A communitarian ethos and reputation-based economy co-exists with the vestiges of capitalism. The “Bounceback” generation is socially-focused and waste-averse, conscious that they live in a world of limited resources, and most people who are physically capable of it now spend much of their time with their surroundings augmented by virtual reality, in order to conserve resources while still living full and meaningful lives.
Ruby Whiting spends part of her time as a public advocate, specialising in helping troubled individuals with antisocial behaviour navigate the social economy and find solutions that allow them to modify their behaviour to the expect norms. That’s how she encounters Luciano Pox, a troublemaker and a troubled individual who has difficulty navigating society and is convinced someone’s trying to kill him. Luce is at the centre of an Interpol investigation, dogged by ambitious French cop Anselmo. Anselmo believes Luce might be the key to proving the existence of sapient artificial intelligences—a ticket to the top for any ambitious police detective. Ruby’s less convinced, and less enthusiastic about helping Interpol investigate when she has secrets of her own. Especially when she’s worried for her father, troubled musician and conspiracy-chasing journalist Drow, who has a bad case of anxiety rooted in childhood abuse, and a history of suicide attempts.
The other side of Ruby’s life is live action gaming in virtual reality environments. She’s one of the best in her field, with a significant fanbase, and she usually plays the hero. Like any good hero, she has a nemesis: Gimlet Barnes, tied with Ruby for premier position. They share a complicated attraction, but Gimlet’s multi-partner marriage is in difficulty, with one of the partners dying and another divorcing, and their kid Frankie is having problems coming to terms with the existing upheaval in her life.
When Drow chases a fringe conspiracy theory that turns out to be true, and when the truth about Luciano Pox turns out to be even stranger than anyone could have imagined, Ruby and Gimlet are manipulated into one final gaming showdown. One where the stakes are the future of any relationship they could ever have. Oh, and the future of the world.
Beckett has written a science fiction novel that’s immensely hopeful about human potential while also realistic about human flaws—and they have, as well, avoided portraying their future as utopian. The innovative features of society are treated as quotidian, with matter-of-fact brevity, and Gamechanger‘s viewpoint characters share the same irritated appreciation of the benefits and flaws (and general lack of consensus as to which is greater on any given day) as we do about the things that are quotidian parts of our daily lives. And Beckett has populated this society with compelling, believable characters, whose distinct voices and personal stories carry the narrative even when the pacing of the larger thriller lags.
At one level, this is a story about big changes, big discoveries, the fate of the world. At another—the level that drew me in and kept me reading—Gamechanger is a story about personal relationships, and particularly about the relationships between parents and children, about responsibility and dependency, in- and interdependence, and the things (the people) that you can’t bear to lose. It’s normatively queer and bloody captivating, and I can’t wait to see what Beckett does next.
What are you guys reading lately?
Liz Bourke is a cranky queer person who reads books. She holds a Ph.D in Classics from Trinity College, Dublin. Her first book, Sleeping With Monsters, a collection of reviews and criticism, was published in 2017 by Aqueduct Press. It was a finalist for the 2018 Locus Awards and was nominated for a 2018 Hugo Award in Best Related Work. Find her at her blog, where she’s been known to talk about even more books thanks to her Patreon supporters. Or find her at her Twitter. She supports the work of the Irish Refugee Council, the Transgender Equality Network Ireland, and the Abortion Rights Campaign.