This is the first time I’ve come across Stableford, though having seen his looong bibliography, I do wonder how I’ve managed to avoid his output thus far.
This particular book is set in his Emortality series, which envisages an earth where global warming has caused our current civilisation to collapse and gives rise to a human race where biological reproduction is no longer necessary – or even regarded as desirable.
Set hundreds of years in the future and peopled with characters who can hope and expect to live for at least two hundred years – and a fortunate few whose lifespans will stretch into thousands of years. So this is a society on the edge of dramatic change and into this mix there are a series of gruesomely imaginative murders. These killings are sufficiently shocking that MegaMall, who controls most official events, puts a temporary embargo on the publicity machine. This means police officers Charlotte Holmes and Hal Watson are under a serious time constraint to solve them and need help, which they get from the plant designer and historian Oscar Wilde.
However, this is far from being a straightforward science fiction whodunit. Stableford uses the classic crime scenario as background to some lengthy expositions about the nature of posthumanity – mostly when in the viewpoint of Oscar Wilde, who is by far the most entertaining and intriguing character in this cast of eccentrics. This is, I feel, the true engine that runs this novel and although I’m not a huge fan of this harder type of science fiction, Stableford is sufficiently skilful to pull it off. He manages to get the correct balance between his musings on the impact of increased longevity and keeping the pace up necessary to keep the reader turning the pages. In fact with was a refreshing change to read something a little more leisurely than the mandatory breakneck speed that science fiction crime novels seem to require, these days.
The flashes of tongue-in-cheek humour also helped to keep me entertained – again, something that isn’t generally a feature of the genre. Stableford has some interesting points to make, while his long-suffering police officer, Charlotte Holmes, struggles to keep some kind of order in this sprawling investigation. The world is well constructed, with some nice touches in there.
All in all, a polished, well crafted book by a very able writer. And if proof were needed that Stableford is all that is the fact that this book comes in the middle of the Emortality series. Yet I wasn’t aware that it was a series. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t read any of the other books, I was still able to immediately access the situation and the characters without needing any prior knowledge. Neither did Stableford assume I was a former fan. Yipee! As it happens, I was so impressed with this enjoyable read, I shall certainly be looking out for more of Stableford’s prolific output.