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Crashing Heaven by Al Robertson
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In this future, computer intelligences are neither servants nor enemies of mankind. They have become gods. Seemingly benevolent, corporate, near omnipotent entities. And like the old gods of myth they are as indulgent and feckless and untrustworthy as any independent individual with its own agenda.

Humanity meanwhile lives in a multi-layered artificial habitat, submerged in the digital world of the weave. There’s a truce in place with the AIs of the outer solar system; mistrusted for their alternative philosophies and attitudes. Into a none-too-stable political situation, a prisoner of war is released back into society. A cyber-soldier with very particular gifts for hard hacks and tactical accountancy. And he carrier a passenger, a software suite which in a matter of months will own the meatware, killing the human inhabitant in the process.

So Jack has, pretty much, come home to bid farewell to his loved ones before he dies and the petty, powerful, petulant and impulsive puppet Hugo Fist takes the reins. What follows is a brilliantly-written exploration of this bewildering and beguiling world, and a neatly nuanced development of their relationship as they’re sucked back into a criminal investigation in which all the gods have a personal interest.

(There's more details on the plot and characters over at

Author Robertson runs wild with the theme of what it is to be an individual, to be alive, to be sentient; dredging the possible depths of what accidental evil the living might do to the digital memories of the dead in their attempts to assuage their grief and loss. Bigotry, racism, narcissism, narcotic abuse and myriad other aspects of current culture are magnified in a future which is brilliantly realised and deftly described.

There’s also a pretty decent mystery to resolve; a supporting cast of characters you’d like to spend more time with, and some wonderful creations – the visualisation of digital attack dogs, in particular. By the end of it, I’d even warmed somewhat to Fist, although Jack remained more of an unfulfilled character – odd, for the notional protagonist – who seemed largely incapable without the skills of his digital daemon.

Even so, Crashing Heaven gripped me from its opening moments through to the final pages. It’s imaginative, accessible and rewarding on many levels. More, please…
8/10 ( )
  RowenaHoseason | Jun 22, 2016 |
Cyberpunk and I don’t always make the best bedfellows, but when I read the description to Crashing Heaven I just knew I had to check it out. Published in the UK, I’d initially decided to either get it shipped from overseas or wait patiently to see if it’ll eventually get a release date this side of the Atlantic. To my happy surprise though, I later discovered on the publisher website that it was actually available in the US in audio format. I very excitedly requested a review copy.

What I got was exactly what the description promised, a novel that hits relentlessly hard, fast and without mercy. I could sense the influence of William Gibson and classic cyberpunk in its bleak narrative about a future of an abandoned Earth, AI wars, and people living in augmented reality. After spending years in prison, protagonist Jack Forster is a soldier who returns home with two things: a reputation as a traitor for surrendering to the Totality, and a virtual puppet named Hugo Fist tethered to his mind. Designed as a weapon to fight the enemy, Fist is a combat-AI which would eventually expire and take Jack’s personality and effectively his life with it.

All Jack wants to do is to clear his name, but upon his return to Station, he discovers that while he was away, two of his old friends have met with suspicious deaths. One of them is a former lover, spurring Jack to get to the bottom of this mystery and find those responsible before his time runs out.

The story can be a bit confusing, though to be fair, I have a history of being frustrated with cyberpunk. While Crashing Heaven may be a much easier read than a lot of other books in the genre, I still found many of its ideas abstract and hard to follow, such as trying to imagine Fist as a puppet that mostly exists inside Jack’s head but which can also be “pulled” out to manifest in a form similar to that of a ventriloquist dummy. The writing is also rough in places and not always sufficient when it comes to giving descriptions, which added to my difficulty.

However, I was also impressed by a lot of ideas in this book. Using Fist as an example again, it’s hard to reconcile the fact that such an innocuous-looking puppet can also be such a deadly weapon, with one hell of a potty-mouth on him to boot. The world is a rich tableau of both wonder and bleakness, where myth mixes with virtual reality. Mysterious entities worshipped as gods walk among the populace and grant favor to the faithful. The dead can return in “Fetches”, bodies housing the memories of the departed so that the living can spend more time with those who have passed on. Almost every aspect of the world-building is multi-faceted and gave me a lot to think about.

Still, probably my favorite part about the book is the relationship between Jack and Fist, the complex dynamic between them and the way it evolves as the story progresses. Forever linked together, the nature of their interactions range from the humorous to the grotesque. You can never predict what Fist might say or do next, which might be exasperating for Jack but it works great for a reader watching these exchanges play out. They inject a fait bit of lightness to this otherwise gritty and despairing story.

Narrator Thomas Judd can also be credited for making the Jack-and-Fist alliance the highlight of this audiobook. His performance was overall decent but nothing too remarkable – except for one thing: his Fist voice. It was perfect. It also helped a lot, considering how much of the book is made up of Jack and Fist going back and forth in conversation.

Apart from a few flaws, Crashing Heaven was a good book. The writing may be awkward at times and the plot is convoluted in places, but the entertainment value in the story makes up for that. Furthermore, dedicated fans of cyberpunk will probably like this even more than I did, so if you love the genre, definitely consider checking out Al Robertson’s unique debut. ( )
1 vote stefferoo | Jul 27, 2015 |
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[Look out of the window, Fist,] said Jack, speaking inside his mind so only the little puppet could hear him. [Snowflakes.]
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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