‘Chasing The Dragon’ is the fourth volume in Justina Robson’s five book ‘Quantum Gravity’ series of Science Fiction novels about the exploits of cyborg Lila Black.
The story started in 2015, when a Quantum Bomb destroyed the barriers between dimensions. Humanity found that it was not alone in the universe, as it gained access to the dimensions occupied by elves, demons, faeries and others. They in turn gained access to the remade human dimension, now known as Otopia.
In 2019, Lila Black was a young administrator in the Otopian National Security Agency. When she accompanied her boss on a trip to Alfheim, she was hoping for a little excitement. Instead, she got caught in the middle of a mission that went wrong, was captured by the Elven Secret Service and tortured for information. Having been left for dead, she was eventually rescued and brought back to Otopia. When Lila regained consciousness, she found that she had been saved, but at a huge cost. Turned into a cyborg, half her body was now metal and plastic, controlled by an artificial intelligence that she was only barely in charge of. She became Otopia’s first cybernetic secret agent and wasn’t happy about it.
In book one, ‘Keeping It Real’, Lila met and fell in love with an elvish rock star called Zal, while she was working undercover as his bodyguard. In book two, ‘Selling Out’, she was sent on a mission to Demonia, where double-dealing and assassination are a way of life. There, she fell in love with a demon called Teazle and ended up getting married to both Zal and Teazle. In book three, ‘Going Under’, Lila travelled to Faery, the dimension of the Fey, in a mission to find out how to rid Otopia of a plague of fey moths. However, when she finally got back to Otopia, she found that fifty years had passed in her absence. As a result, all the humans she knew, including her younger sister Max, were dead.
Due to this time lapse and the fact that her time in Faery has transformed her body from a man-made construction of flesh, metal and plastic into something new, whole and all together ‘other’, Lila starts book four, ‘Chasing The Dragon’, feeling very isolated from everyone and everything around her. Her only remaining friend is Malachi, her fellow agent and the only Fey still working for the Otopian government. When he tells her that Teazle has been fitted up for the murder of a clairvoyant demon called Madame des Loupes, she is persuaded to come back to the Otopian Secret Service. They want her to help them cope with the increasingly weird things that are happening, such as reports of dead people reappearing, not as mindless zombies but as they were in their prime. She wants access to their information networks so she can try and find out not only why Teazle has been framed but also what has happened to Zal, who was left behind in Faery at the end of the last book.
However, Lila is finding it increasingly difficult to control her anger. She is angry because of what the Agency did to her body without her permission, because she lost fifty years and with it, her sister, and now expected to act as a hero whether she wants to or not. Lila repeatedly rages at Teazle and anyone else who is close to hand. On one occasion, she gets so angry, after a trivial run-in with an officious groundsman at the cemetery where her sister Max is buried, that she races her motorbike hard and fast until she crashes it into a motorway support at high speed. Anyone else would have died but Lila is now all but indestructible. The same cannot be said for her state of mind nor her relationships, both of which suffer from her inability to come to terms with what she has become.
When Lila realises that Otopia is under attack from forces unknown, she has to decide what is most important to her. Does she want to rage against the dying of the light until she destroys herself or is she going to roll her sleeves up, get her hands dirty and become the saviour of humanity?
There is a huge amount to enjoy in ‘Chasing The Dragon’. Justina Robson is an accomplished writer and plays about with SF, fantasy and horror tropes with ease. The book is full of lively characters and exciting ideas, all placed within a setting that she has filled with energy and vitality. I loved spending time in these worlds.
I only had one problem with the book. Unfortunately, that problem was the lead character, Lila Black. I understood and could sympathise with the fact that she felt angry, confused and conflicted by what had happened and the role that had been thrust upon her. However, her stock response to these feelings is to get angry and do something stupid, in one case killing another cyborg who had the temerity to ask her a question and, in another, trying very hard to kill herself in a motorbike crash. Over time, it became increasingly difficult to sympathise with her. If she didn’t want to be the hero, she should simply have walked away. Having accepted the role, however reluctantly, her on-going displays of self-pity rapidly became irritating.
‘Chasing The Dragon’ is SF for grown-ups. Justina Robson has created a world that should appeal to and resonate with fans of SF, fantasy and horror fiction. If you fancy exercising your mental muscles and having a lot of fun while you’re doing it, I recommend that you read both this book and the series. I’d strongly advise you to start from the beginning though, as this is not a series that is easy to join part-way through. Lila can be exciting and annoying in equal measure but she’s never dull. What more can you ask of your friendly neighbourhood cyborg?
(pub: Pyr/Prometheus Books. 397 page enlarged paperback. Price: $15.98 (US). ISBN: 978-1-59102-746-1
pub: Gollancz. 397 page enlarged paperback. Price: £12.99 (UK only). ISBN: 978-0-575-08562-6)