Gollancz | 2016 (27 October) | c.336p | Review copy | Buy the book
Waking Hell is the sequel to the marvellous Crashing Heaven, one of the science fiction highlights of 2015, but, despite the continuation of themes, both feature different characters and stand alone very well. Having said that, I definitely recommend that you also read Crashing Heaven not least because it will introduce you to the incorrigible, morally repugnant, filthily appalling and utterly fabulous Hugo Fist! This review assumes you’ve had the pleasure.
Time has passed since the events of Crashing Heaven and some things have changed aboard Station, the enormous asteroid that has been hollowed out into an inhabitable environment that pursues a distant orbit around an Earth that has been transformed by man into largely lifeless deserts and toxic seas. Station is still controlled by the Pantheon, a group of sentient corporation deities, and reality is still hidden behind the Weave, an enormously elaborate virtual reality overlay, but now its citizens also include Fetches. Fetches exist within the Weave. They are effectively the souls of the dead, reborn into holographic-like figures that now live a near-normal existence. They are Station’s ghosts. But Fetches are not the only transformed humans. There are also Minds, powerful entities that can move between human and alternate worlds, than can be either lifelike or monstrous. The gods continue to keep everything moving along, raising morale, appealing to base instincts, but a new force has arisen to seize control of Station and everyone on it.
Leila is a Fetch and now her brother Dieter, fatally injured by one of the ancient artefacts that he loves to collect, is about to join her. Suddenly, Leila becomes a very wealthy young woman. She realises that Dieter has agreed to something terrible in order to help his sister. He has sold his soul. Desperate to find Dieter’s Fetch and rescue him, Leila embarks on a quest that will escalate into something extraordinary, and nothing less than the future of Station is at stake.
Waking Hell begins gently with a personal tragedy and grief and, for some time, you might think you were reading one type of book before it suddenly explodes into something else entirely. Having read and loved Crashing Heaven, I should not have been surprised. Both books demonstrate so brilliantly the author’s fantastic imagination and creativity, not to mention his wit and eye for action and thrills. There are elements of horror here to go with the science fiction. I love this when it works and it works really well here. I loved how the story and plot developed. It builds and builds and builds and the intensity and excitement of the second half is so huge and powerful that I couldn’t put it down.
Set against that is the intimate portrait of Leila. Nothing is more important to Fetches than their memories. Memory is fundamental to their existence. Little is worse than to forget and to be forgotten. But this terrible state of affairs has faced Leila in her past and in her present. Watching her hang on, and the people around her try to do the same, is deeply moving.
The world building is marvellous, not just in the way that Station is described but also in the way it is populated. There are so many variations of humanity living in this strange place. The Fetches were such a memorable part of Crashing Heaven but here much more time is taken to explore their existence and their connections to people and Minds. Some of these relationships are extraordinarily intimate although inherently sad.
I felt lost in another time and place when I read Waking Hell. I read it slowly (for me). There is so much to appreciate and such a lot going on. When all is said and done, Waking Hell tells a fantastic story and I loved being in its grip. I don’t know whether Al Robertson will be returning us to Station but, whether he does or not, I can’t wait to see where he takes us next.