Living Next Door to the God of Love
by Justina Robson
Review by Colleen Cahill
Spectra Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 0553587420
Date: 28 March, 2006 List Price $13.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Several virtual environments have been created by the alien entity Unity, a mysterious force that humans discovered as they were exploring outer space. These "Stuff" universes, so called because they are made of the stuff of Unity, often follow themes, such as Dindsenchas, a Celtic world complete with fairies or Metropolis, which is made up of 20 percent super heroes. Sankhara, a High Interaction Universe, is more dangerous to humans but also more exciting. It is in Sankhara that Greg, Jalaeka and Francine first meet and they certainly find it a highly interactive location.
Unity can absorb humans into itself and while they can be then spun out as splinters, they are never truly separate entities again. Jalaeka is a splinter that has managed to completely separate from Unity, thus becoming a peer instead of a piece of the whole. This is a threat that Unity cannot ignore and it shut down Metropolis, absorbing all the humans within, in a failed attempt to recapture Jalaeka. This run away godling forms his own pocket world off Sankhara, which attracts the attention of Greg, a scholar who studies Stuffie universes. Greg begins exploring Jalaeka's new world with the assistance of Francine, a genetically-engineered adolescent genius, or Genie, who ran away from Earth to Sankhara and has become Jalaeka's lover. Or one of his lovers, because Jalaeka seems to need love the way we need food. As the conflict between the two alien forces is joined, this trio faces many challenges, the worst of which could be to lose themselves in Unity.
The worlds Robson has created are strange and very intriguing. Even Earth is barely recognizable, with a Solar-wide government, hive communications, and unique combinations of humanity and technology called the Forged. The investigation of the disappearance of Metropolis is lead by Light Angel Valkyrie Skuld, an intelligence officer with metal wings and formidable weapons. Valkyrie is also still clearly an emotional being, one who is morning the loss of her partner. Robson slowly reveals these details to us, avoiding info-dumps in favor of bits and hints which not only seem more natural, but add to the exotic feel of the worlds. The striking use of language takes this work beyond just a good story, giving it a lyrical edge. Regularly running across lines like "the look of a sculpture by Michelangelo animated by malevolent forces" had me savoring the text. Much like William Gibson's works, which this book will certainly be compared to, Living Next Door to the God of Love is a literary experience as well as a dramatic one. Unlike cyberpunk, however, this book has a feel of myths and legends, with animalistic shamans, wolves in the woods and warrior women.
This is not cyberpunk, but those who enjoy that genre will find Living Next Door to the God of Love a fascinating read, as will those who crave an exciting story that is also a finely crafted literary work.