Saturday, 17 February 2001

Jon Courtenay Grimwood: redRobe (2000)

Edition: Earthlight, 2000
Review number: 756

A garish cover and the unusual typography of the title proclaim redRobe to be a trendy novel. It is fashionably violent and streetwise, but it is another case of Earthlight's designers pigeonholing a novel where it doesn't quite belong. It isn't just a novel about drugs, torture and sex; redRobe has more to it than that. (It does, however, contain lots of drugs, torture and sex, and much of the violence in particular is extremely unpleasant.)

redRobe is better than just a distillation of what is currently trendy. It has a strong vein of humour, mostly centred around uncooperative artificial intelligence, such as hand grenades which have to be persuaded to explode at the time you want them to. It also has a reasonable plot, about the search for the computer chips containing the memory backups of a murdered Pope. Its setting, based heavily on cyberpunk, is reasonably interesting if not particularly original.

It is the violence and the exploitation of violence - warfare has become the staple of TV as the ultimate thrill in fly on the wall drama - which stands out as the major feature of the novel, and in the end this overwhelms the other aspects. (Of course, the media packaging of violence is an important issue, and clearly this is one of the things that Grimwood wants to say about our society today, but using packaged violence to say it is a little disingenuous.) Although I found redRobe an interesting read, it did not lead me to want to explore Grimwood's other novels.

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