This was a book that I won in a competition that was run by SciFiNow way back in February. I retweeted something and then sent me a pile of books. It was very nice of them, and a great way to pick up some titles I was pretty unlikely to select for myself without help.
My initial thoughts, just a few pages in, were “Oh no. This is going to be awful.” It started with a genius with apparently severe autism called Tobe. Tobe is helped by an assistant and companion called Metoo. Then there’s Tobe’s student (of which he has several, all with the same name to save him the bother of learning them) called Pitu 3. The floor is covered in linopro, Metoo wears cottonpro socks, she makes Tobe eggpro for breakfast. You get the idea.
For some reason (explained at the very, very end of the book) Tobe suddenly becomes obsessed with statistics. Statistics is considered a solved problem, and Tobe is supposed to be one of the greatest mathematicians in the world, so this represents odd behaviour. Tobe is, as a genuis mathematician, considered a master. In this story, some masters are also “actives”, and actives somehow protect the planet by hiding from mysterious forces which would attack it if they found it. How this works is never explained, but it requires large facilities, or colleges, where the actives, their students, companions, assistants, and all the necessary support staff live. It’s also important that no one ever finds out which of the masters are actives.
Because of the unexplained threat to the Earth, and because of the secrecy regarding which masters are actives, all of the masters are monitored carefully. Indeed, basically everyone is monitored constantly. This monitoring takes the form of watching strings float about on a screen – the strings represent brain activity and might be a thought or an emotion or almost anything else. When Tobe starts thinks about statistics, the mysterious people in charge start worring – this could threaten the safety of the planet. For some reason. So far, this is all getting very sci-fi world build-y.
I actually got drawn in. A lot of it is very compelling. I wanted to know how the monitoring worked. I wanted to know how the Earth’s safety net worked. I wanted to know what the threats were. When I read about a college where things had gone wrong, I wanted to know more about the experiences of the people there (although, to be fair, there’s probably enough about that college in this particular novel). I found myself liking some of the characters and amused that alongside Tobe, Metoo and Pitu 3, we also had characters named things like Bob. I mean, why not? Screw me for getting annoyed at the daft names, right?
So I was ready to admit that I’d been wrong, and as the odd detail filled in the gaps I got really into it. I was worried that I was more than half way through with plenty of questions still unanswered, but we were getting there. The story was getting exciting and I read the second half quite quickly. Then, annoyingly, the end kind of just falls flat. The problem gets solved a bit too conveniently and everyone goes back to normal.
I think the world that has been built here is fascinating (yes, in spite of myself) and I want to know more about it, but the story seems to have been added simply so we can read about the world. There are some fun character studies here too, but again, since we don’t have a good story for the characters to be involved in, it’s hard to enjoy the book as a whole. If Abnett wrote a sequel and the narrative was there, I’d be at the front of the queue to buy a copy. As it is, I’m just hoping that this was the first novel she needed to get some practise with.