S Spencer Baker, Slabscape: Reset (Blip Books, 2010)
Slabscape: Reset spends the first three very short chapters (the first is two sentences; the second is blank) describing somebody falling. The astute reader will remember The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’s plummeting whale and bowl of petunias, and be tempted to consider Baker as an imitator of Douglas Adams – and indeed a joke about half-way through about “banging the rocks together” might simply justify that. It’s probably best, in fact, that Blip, who seem to be a very small Liverpool publisher, haven’t flagged this novel with an “in the great tradition of . . .” banner. That said, though, there’s a lot to like here. Our protagonist turns out to be a “reset”, a regenerated and somewhat rebuilt body of the original Louis Drago, whose downloaded hologram is also present on the Slab, a kind of space habitat established to seek out and make contact with the alien consciousness which aeons ago had infected human minds and instilled in us all our existential doubts and anxieties. Dielle, our protagonist, comes, naively and Dent-like, to understand his place in the network controlled by Slabwide Integrated System, or Sis (a vast AI/Internet), and the economy of slab (which can broadly be summed up by the fact that Kiki, the beautiful “nurse” who has brought him to consciousness, is also his manager, and that all his experiences are distributed throughout Slab for the entertainment of its inhabitants. The fact that some of these experiences can be highly embarrassing is somewhat mitigated that he does get a share of the royalties. The other fact that the very attractive women who are angling to have sex with him are doing so because of the royalties they’ll get in the subsequent “sumecasts” feeds back into the “highly embarrassing” category.
The plot involves what seems to be a war with aliens and the discovery of what looks like an identical copy of Slab some way ahead of the Slab Dielle has found himself on. As Dielle is getting used to this new environment, so is Louis, who has the advantage of keeping his memories as an unscrupulous late-21st century wheeler-dealer billionaire. While by the time we are half-way through the novel, the shift of point-of-view between Dielle and Louis begins to look a bit clumsy, the contrast between innocence and experience adds fun, and by the end of the book it’s clear that some of the other characters we meet (such as Slab’s President) and the Slab economy itself have roles to play in a scenario which is not (for there is at least one book to follow) altogether clear.
While some fans of Douglas Adams and Red Dwarf might feel that they have read it all before, and some of the humour (particular where sex is involved) is a bit giggly, Baker has done a good job in building an imaginary creation of his own and the result is a readable and amusing novel which all too quickly and horribly wraps you up in the realisation that the murky anarcho-capitalist amorality in what we are reading is not too unlike our Own Dear Interweb. Book two is due out shortly. I’ll be keeping an eye out.