Well, it took me a while to get into this one.
I enjoyed its predecessor, though as folk might recall, its ending left me a bit uncertain as to how eager I would be to continue this (of course) trilogy. Why do science fiction writers, in books, television, and films, all seem so eager to introduce some kind of god figure into perfectly good stories of galactic fugitives, alien monster origins or cool stories about nanotechnology and politics?
But Angry Robot subscription day came, and I got all excited. Alas, I realize now that I had mixed up Debris and Roil; the sequel to which was in a recent, earlier download and which I'll probably be tearing into right after this (though we all know I'm a little busy with something else these days). But that's neither here nor there.
There's still a lot to like in this sequel (especially the ending, which YOWZA), the title of which refers to the weird liquid metal creation that is surgically embedded in the bodies of its main characters, Tanyana, Kichlan, Lad and the rest of their team. Most of the time it is dormant and contained within bands around their throats, waists, wrists and ankles like pretty silvery shackles, but it can be deployed with varying degrees of skill as armor, any kind of tool needed, and as edged weaponry. The substance of which these suits are made is also the only stuff anyone's found that can actually touch and manipulate the debris evoked in the prior book's title, which is very important and dangerous stuff. And that's just the baseline; Tanyana's suit is an extra special version that makes her into pretty much a superhero. Call her Dame Debris. Or something.*
Debris, in this world, is the by-product or shadow-self of pions, subatomic particles that Tanyana's people have learned to exploit to manipulate matter and energy pretty much at will. The whole city and everything in it has been created by will alone by pion-binders, people with the talent to impose their wills on pions, singly or in "critical circles", to create buildings and bridges and streets and furniture and clothes -- and to light interior spaces, propel vehicles, and pretty much do everything that we do with fossil fuels and hard work.
But all that lovely ease comes with a cost. Many costs, actually: pion-binding ability seems to be innate, and the best pion-binders command the best price for their skills, so society is pretty stratified, as Tanyana learned in the last book, when her pion-binding ability was lost to an accident** and she sank to the bottom rung of the socioeconomic ladder to become a glorified garbage collector, collecting debris before it can muck up everything that has been created by pions.
In this sequel, after rather a niftily done bit of flashback exposition reveals plainly what we were left just suspecting at the end of Debris, namely whodunnit to Tanyana and why, our heroes are more or less forced to begin working closely with the godlike (and yet still weirdly helpless) Keeper, who insists that the debris situation isn't the worst thing going on in the city of Movoc-Under-Keeper: the exploitation of pions (possibly the separation of master particles into pions and debris) is creating holes in the fabric of reality that can basically unmake absolutely everything that is.
So, ten out of ten for high stakes, but For Snape's Sake, why does it have to be a god who tells everyone and leads the charge?
Anyway, there's still lots to like in this novel. The main character, as I said last time around, is a good, strong female lead who doesn't dwell on her reduced circumstances and is not fighting to regain what she has lost; rather, she is fighting to hold on to what she has found: truth, friendship, honesty, and love, both romantic (lots of lovely scenes with Kichlan that are genuinely sweet and moving) and platonic/fraternal (Kichlan's brother, Lad, is a darling).
There is a host of interesting secondary characters, too, which always makes me happy. If you take me to a circus, you will always lose me at the sideshow.
And lots of revolutionary politics, China Mieville-style. In fact, sometimes this setting feels like New Crobuzon with nanotech, and all the weird revolutionary politics you'd expect from a China-fancier. Which is, let's face it, pretty awesome.
And of course, there are lots of neat ideas and scenes:
...then the bricks themselves changed. Zecholas was not moving them, not rearranging them to create a hole in the wall... Instead, he was altering the very nature of the bricks; removing the air, unbinding then reforming minerals, easin gthe ties of heat and drying water, so they shrank into something harder, darker and misshapen.This is especially fun stuff to be reading in the wake of the formal announcement that the Higgs-Boson particle is really a thing. Thurs reality slowly catches up to science fiction. Maybe someday we'll exert this same kind of control over matter and energy in the real world as the people in these novels do.
But, maybe, as is so in these novels, that won't be such a great thing.
* I need Adam Christopher on this. He comes up with the best superhero names.
**That, of course, turns out not to have been an accident. No spoilers there, by the way. This is made pretty obvious from scene one in the last book.