Although ‘Waking Hell’ by Al Robertson isn’t described as cyberpunk, it has all the digital footprints that says it is. Digital beings co-existing with organic life pretty much sums that up. Although the boundary to a digital reality is less so.
Leila Fenech is a fetch. A being whose existing memories after physical death given a somewhat digital form which seems to have some physicality but is in an awfully grey area and only hinted at that they might run physical avatars. Her brother and tech scientist, Dieter, is dying and is going to have the same treatment but his body suddenly vanishes and she finds her bank account has made her very wealthy. Leila isn’t that worried about money as she wants her brother back as he was a major contributor in creating her digital existence. Dieter’s contribution to digital life was ensuring more of the personality was transferred to that form.
Following a series of clues, she discovers that pressure men are following her and they, in turn, belong to Deodatus, a shadowy organisation or person that she can’t tap into without help. Not even the police can but, in this future, she can buy the case off them to do her own investigation which attracts other people to help her and then she finds she is on their team and not the other way around.
Contrary to the back cover but trying to avoid giving away too many spoilers, finding Dieter is less of a problem than convincing him that she’s real and what he’s doing is wrong. With his memories diminished, Dieter isn’t sure about anything anyway.
The real problem with this story is as Leila is in every scene is why it wasn’t written in first person but is a slightly eschewed third person immediate past tense in that you’re following events than living them. This is not helped by the lack of emotional content. When certain events happen, there isn’t enough pause to take in the ramifications and something feels missing. Maybe this is because Leila is a fetch and might not have all her emotional marbles and as a digital being has little to fear but it’s hardly enough to endear the reader. When you consider that Leila has a duplicate of herself made to hide her own activities or in Dieter’s case have the rest of his personality restored then how can death be permanent?
With Leilia’s duplicate, the AI creates it in such a way that it also forgets who she is. One would have to hope that there is a failsafe codeword to recognise who she is later or she would never be able to reclaim her fortune. Something happens but this seems to be forgotten.
The change from searching for someone to a bigger problem does tend to make this two stories rather than one is a bit odd. Likewise, the pressure men which seems like an interesting take on surveillance is totally wasted. This doesn’t mean that the story isn’t readable but probably doesn’t need someone like me looking at inconsistencies that aren’t resolved.
It wasn’t until the end, where Al Robertson points out that ‘Walking Dead’ is a continuation or sequel to ‘Crashing Heaven’, a book we never saw. However, it didn’t make much difference to what I read here and can be read as a standalone.
(pub: Gollancz. 329 page enlarged paperback. Price: £14.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-473-20343-3)