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Equations of Life (Metrozone) by Simon Morden
Review by Liz de Jager
Orbit Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9781841499482
Date: 07 April 2011 List Price 7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK /

I was lucky enough to get an early look at this last July. British author Simon Morden has been around a little while, honing his talents in the short fiction markets. I listed his dimension hopping Telos Novella, Another War, back in 2005, but it was with his YA book, The Lost Art (reviewed by Iain Emsley back in our May 2007 issue) that has perhaps made his most significant impression on the market... so far, that is!

After a long wait, Orbit now publish Morden's very grown up, near future SF thriller, Equations of Life, and I confidently predict this will be Morden's break-out book, one that confidently announces his arrival as a major name in British SF. It's a fantastic piece of work - a roller-coaster ride through a post-plague hit London that made me think of Richard Morgan's Altered Carbon colliding head on with Gibson's Neuromancer, whilst side-swiping Stephenson's Snowcrash. I absolutely loved it!

Orbit publish Equations of Life this month with sequels, Theories of Flight and Degrees of Freedom both following in May and June respectively. The very bold and striking cover design should also be noted - these books look awesome!

"Meet Samuil Petrovitch: a Russian emigre with a smart mouth, a dodgy heart and a dodgier past. He's brilliant, friendless, cocky and even in a world where the No. 1 rule is 'don't get involved', he stands out as a selfish, miserable b*****d. Petrovitch debuts in EQUATIONS OF LIFE: a fast-paced, wise-cracking, action-packed romp through the overcrowded, decaying urban jungle of a not-so-distant future, featuring amongst many other ingredients exiled yakuza, Russian gangsters, gang warfare, virtual reality and a two-metre-tall warrior-nun packing an unfeasibly large automatic pistol. YOU ARE NOW ENTERING THE LONDON METROZONE. THE TIME IS SEVEN THIRTY-FIVE IN THE MORNING, TWO DECADES AFTER ARMAGEDDON. MIND THE GAP. "

Equations of Life introduces us to a futuristic London that is wholly its own creature - vastly expanded and over-populated by refugees of all types. One such refugee is Petrovitch. He's an escapee of the nuclear fall-out in Russia and he's living with a heart condition on Clapham Common in a container home. We meet him whilst he's having a relatively good morning. He collects a piece of very expensive electronic equipment from a courier and is en route to his lab when he sees the attempted kidnapping of a beautiful young Asian girl. Instead of walking away, or turning aside like everyone else is doing, Petrovitch does something that for him is very much out of character: he steps in and helps, grabbing the girl and fleeing with her. Chaos erupts behind them but he manages to get her safely in a church where unexpected help comes in the form of a giant nun wielding a massive gun! A group of Japanese men come to take the young woman from the church and Petrovitch is taken to hospital as the pacemaker that is keeping him alive sizzles out and he is in need of severe medical attention.

This one small thoughtless act of humanity has repercussions that even Petrovitch could not have foreseen. Soon he is having discussions with the leading Japanese mobster in the London Metrozone, who acts as if Petrovitch has become his favourite son. Petrovitch also find himself questioned by the local police about his involvement and to make matters worse, the local Russian gang now has him in their sights too, as they were the ones trying to take the young Japanese woman. And there is a bounty on his head. Not an ideal situation for a young man who wants to keep himself invisible and under the radar.

Morden's writing is self-assured. We are never in doubt of Petrovitch's skills and dubious background. We may not know entirely what he is up to, but as the image of him builds, we become aware of the fact that he is a very unusual and a very capable young man who has the ability to think outside the box and consider problems from all angles, and somehow still decide to come up with the craziest solutions possible.

Mordon's Metrozone is recognisably London - in this scenario, the only remaining city in England. It heaves with people and the majority of them are not pleasant at all. The secondary cast in Equations of Life is rendered in bold strokes, but they take a step into the background because the depiction of the city itself feels so real, so plausible.

There is a lot of physical action within Equations of Life and it may surprise a few readers this is not pretty, hermetically clean science fiction but a gritty one, more reminiscent of Blade Runner, complete with questions about the role of technology, the loss of our humanity and the lengths some people will go to to recapture and recreate the past.

Equations of Life is a great opener to this trilogy by Simon Morden. Petrovitch's character shines brightly and Morden has given us a new kind of anti-hero, one who is likeable for all his unlikeability, and that is no mean feat. The rest of the trilogy: Theories of Flight and Degrees of Freedom are released within a month of each other which means that readers will not lose the momentum of this very readable series.

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