Rig | Jon Wallace | 2016 | Gollancz | 292p | Review copy | Buy the book
Rig completes Jon Wallace’s fine science fiction trilogy that focuses on the extraordinary, unusual figure of Kenstibec, set within a world destroyed by man – by nuclear blast, radiation, environmental catastrophe, disease and war. As always with a trilogy, you wouldn’t want to begin with the last, so, instead, make a start with Barricade and then Steeple. This review avoids spoilers but it assumes you’ve read the other two novels.
Kenstibec is a Ficial, a robotic human, part organic, part artificial. At least, that used to be the case. There is little of the artificial left in Kenstibec. His nanotech is dead, he is no longer invulnerable. He might still have great strength and courage under fire but there is little now to separate him from the Reals – the few humans who have survived the blight on the planet. Mind you, there are hardly any Ficials left now either. Everything has come down to survival.
There are few places left where anyone can make a life. Kenstibec and his group of survivors have been drive to the far north where humanity scrapes an existence on icy seas. But, as we’ve come to expect, trouble is never far behind and, while Kenstibec and the others do what they can to save the innocent, there are others who will stop at nothing to exploit it. The fight to stay alive will be a desperate one.
Rig follows on from Steeple but events have moved on for Kenstibec and the others. There are familiar faces here but there are others who are gone. This is a grim world. Survival of favourite characters cannot be guaranteed. Instead we are introduced to a new generation of humans, children who offer hope, and they are caught in the middle of something terrible. As in earlier novels, conflict takes place within confined places but whereas in the past events were located in a post-apocalyptic Britain, Rig moves beyond and shows the wider impact of the global catastrophe.
Despite the bleakness of this destroyed world and the evil of those who continue to exploit what’s left, the character of Kenstibec means that the novels are never as bleak as you might expect. Through the trilogy we have watched Kenstibec become progressively more human and at times it’s been a dryly humorous journey. Kenstibec is our narrator and he’s a wonderful guide as he focuses on what matters to him, including his dog. He is always slightly detached, treated differently, and through this novel there are regular flashbacks to his creation and evolution as a manufactured artificial human. But during this evolution he was also part of a brotherhood and there are some poignant glimpses of the humanity buried within these unusual ‘men’. There are some interesting Reals in this book but perhaps they are not as memorable as in the previous two novels. The stage here belongs to Kenstibec.
Rig is packed full of action but it is also at times a deeply emotional read as it builds to what is quite a climax. The worldbuilding is so well done, the mood powerfully maintained and the writing is superb. But above it all is the marvellous creation of Kenstibec and I’ll miss him.