Living Next Door To The God Of Love Justina Rob­son, 2005

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In 2003 Justina Rob­son

brought out Nat­u­ral His­tory, with a mid- tran­shu­man revo­lu­tion set­ting that saw ten­sions drawn taut be­tween dom­i­nant hu­mans and the tran­shu­man Forged they made to serve them. Into this con­flict comes the dis­cov­ery of the alien mat­ter, “Stuff ”.

Living Next Door To The God Of Love shares the set­ting of this ear­lier book – build­ing on those events but at suf­fi­cient dis­tance that it can be read on its own. In God Of Love the na­ture of Stuff is bet­ter known. Stuff comes from Unity, a vast multi- di­men­sional hive- con­scious­ness. Unity wants ev­ery­thing to be­come Unity, and those who play with Stuff run the risk of be­com­ing just an­other part of the ever- hun­gry mass- mind. Why, then, would any­one have any­thing to do with it? Be­cause it is the Stuff that dreams are made on. From hu­man­ity’s per­spec­tive, Stuff can do any­thing. Stuff can make whole worlds (“Side­bars”) in which peo­ple can re­alise their wildest fan­tasies.

Francine is a dis­af­fected young woman, tired of her life, alien­ated from her fam­ily, go­ing on the run. It’s a familiar- enough start for a book ex­cept, here, when she cuts her­self loose from her past, it’s to the Side­bars she goes, end­ing up on Sankhara, a “high­in­ter­ac­tion” ( read: danger­ous) beach re­sort. And there she meets Jalaeka who is, if any­one is, the de­ity of the ti­tle. Be­cause while many of Sankhara’s in­hab­i­tants are “Stuffies”, cre­ated to ful­fil the needs of its hu­man denizens, Jalaeka is some­thing else again. Jalaeka was born out of Stuff, but he has evaded Unity’s em­brace and be­come a ri­val de­ity, able to fold and ma­nip­u­late the uni­verse just as Unity can. Francine ar­rives in Sankhara to be­come the cat­a­lyst of Jalaeka’s show­down with Unity, in the form of its agent and off­shoot Theo.

A com­plex story with more di­men­sions than

SF usu­ally at­tains

God Of Love is not the eas­i­est read. Rob­son makes the reader work to un­der­stand what is go­ing on: the Side­bars, the tran­shu­man cy­ber­netic Forged ex­ist­ing along­side the Stuffie crea­tures of myth and magic. The re­sult is a tremen­dously re­ward­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, a com­plex, rich science fic­tion story which has – just as with Unity and its trans­for­ma­tions of the uni­verse – more di­men­sions than SF usu­ally at­tains.

There can’t be many bet­ter ex­am­ples of Clarke’s maxim of suf­fi­ciently ad­vanced tech­nol­ogy be­ing The Mir­ror Em­pire ( Kameron Hur­ley, 2014) in­dis­tin­guish­able from magic. The feats that Jalaeka and Theo per­form are ex­plic­itly pre­sented as mag­i­cal from the out­side. When we share Jalaeka’s point of view, how­ever, we see them for what they are: multi- di­men­sional fold­ing and ma­nip­u­la­tion of space.

Theo, Unity’s stooge, is a crea­ture for whom the uni­verse ex­ists to be con­sumed. From a dis­pas­sion­ate thing de­void of em­pa­thy, hu­man con­tact and a gnaw­ing envy of Jalaeka’s free­dom trans­forms him even as he trans­forms the world, re­veal­ing the truly vile, ex­ploita­tive core of Unity. Unity loves only it­self, and can­not abide the unas­sim­i­lated other. Jalaeka is its op­po­site: he ex­ists only for oth­ers. It is when Theo at­tacks those he loves that the gloves come off and he stops run­ning. SF has a rep­u­ta­tion for gloss­ing over hu­man re­la­tion­ships. The com­plex lives and loves of Jalaeka are a tour de force, in turns ten­derly hu­man and awe- in­spir­ingly di­vine, polyamorous, bi­sex­ual, gen­uine and boldly re­alised. Living Next Door To The God Of Love is proof pos­i­tive that there is no mu­tual ex­clu­sion to an ex­plo­ration of com­plex SF ideas and an ex­plo­ration of hu­man na­ture and hu­man loves. Adrian Tchaikovsky is the au­thor of the Shad­ows Of The Apt se­ries. His new fan­tasy novel, Guns Of The Dawn, is pub­lished on 12 Fe­bru­ary. Justina Rob­son’s lat­est novel, The Glo­ri­ous An­gels, is pub­lished on 19 March. Look out for an in­ter­view with Justina in the next is­sue of SFX.

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