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