Monday, 8 October 2012

Flywires: great sci-fi

I really enjoyed Flywires. Yes, it perpetuates genre conventions and tropes (largely from Minority Report and to a lesser extent, The Matrix *shudder*) but it’s a great example of high quality genre fulfillment. And that’s not to belittle it at all: it’s good, solid sci-fi entertainment with enough edge and difference from stock plot directions for it to avoid being trite. The familiar conventions help, but to Austen’s credit, he’s created a world and scenarios which are quickly gotten to grips with, allowing the reader quick and easy submersion in which the story can unfold.
Kelsey Fontine is an ex-cop floating through space in a giant globe sized ship – a Dyson sphere - with the last of mankind. The ship has been on course for so long, no-one really remembers when it set off, or the destination. All the inhabitants aboard the ship have been born there, such is the length of their journey. But this story isn’t about journeys or destinations. The ship, as with any vehicle, can only hold and provide for any given number of people at one time, creating a infrastructure that requires careful balance. To help maintain this balance, each and every person is fitted with a ‘flywire’, a device that is embedded into their necks at birth; births are strictly monitored. The flywire connects people to all the systems, databases and resources on the ship and allows them to converese telepathically. Take-aways can be ordered with just a thought. Libraries searched, accessed, read without a word being uttered. Calls made as quick as you can conjure the number in your mind. It’s a web of extreme connectivity that perhaps doesn’t seem as extreme in current times. Communication is king, conversation is minimal. For the ruling bodies, it also means, but of course, that their citizens are open to a perpetual state of constant vigilance
There are exceptions of course: some people, dubbed ‘frywires’ have malfunctioning flywires, due to accidents or disease, and a black-market for illegitimate births and installation has developed. Fontine is a frywire- injured on the job, forced into retirement and having problems remembering bits of his life. Bits that feel important but can’t quite be grasped. After the wall of his apartment is blown up by hit-men in pursuit of a 10-year old boy, his old boss prods his cop instincts reluctantly to the fore and he decides to reunite the boy with his mother. His main priority is to restore his life to the banal humdrum it was when he still had four walls. The boy’s mother , however, proves difficult to track down, his origins murky and the threads of conspiracy knotty and far-reaching.
I must admit to being surprised by Flywires -and very pleasantly. Firstly, by Matt Cossin’s art: the sleek stylised look is a perfect fit for the shiny new world that he’s created (a minor complaint is the line-work, which veers from thin to thick). Yet for all the glossy utopia and whizzy going-ons, Flywires never loses sight of the human element, honing character’s voices and personalities in a manner that belies the polished superficiality of the art style. I always gravitate towards the odder, strange characters and I loved Undetow here, who forcibly reminded me of a deeper and wiser version of Sontaran Commandar Strax from Doctor Who.
Twice, at crucial instances in the story, it took a totally unexpected turn (a good thing), so it’s by no means merely sci-fi by numbers. The second instance, in particular – and I won’t spoil it as it’s part of the resolution – I found myself impressed by and thinking over once I’d closed the book. At that point in the narrative, with all that has passed you feel sure of the outcome, but it ends up swinging the other way. Some may feel the choice made to deal with the repercussions of that outcome is a cheat, for me, it’s in keeping with the narrative and its ploys, again eliciting a chance moment of emotional poignancy that surpasses the confines of the tale. A book I’d happily recommend to any fan of sci-fi, mystery and comics.

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