Book Review: ‘reMix’ by Jon Courtenay Grimwood

'reMix' by J C Grimwood

‘reMix’ by Jon Courtenay Grimwood (UK HBK 0671022229, Pocket Books, Apr 1999)

LizAlec Fabio, daughter of the Napoleonic Empire’s head of Internal Security, is kidnapped en route to the orbital finishing school from which she recently absconded. Her captors ensconce her in a cell in a remote Lunar colony, from which she is rescued by Lars, tunnel-dwelling scavenger and last of the genetically-altered ‘sandrats’, tweaked specifically for life on the Moon.

Meanwhile, her mother Lady Clare is struggling to cope with the impending destruction of Paris and the Empire at the hands of the elective fascist hordes of the Black Hundreds, and worrying about her daughter’s disappearance is an unpleasant extra burden. So she liberates Fixx, LizAlec’s washed-up cyborg boyfriend and junkie ex-rockstar, from the Parisian police station where he has been receiving daily pipe-beatings as a result of being falsely charged with statutory rape – of LizAlec, no less. Lady Clare despatches him to the moon on the last shuttle to not have been consumed by an out of control metal-eating nanovirus, charged with returning LizAlec to safety.

But there are a lot of other factions who want to get their hands on her for various reasons, all of whom collide and entangle in LizAlec’s wake as she flees headlong from those who would return her to Paris and her mother.

reMix is the third of four novels from Grimwood’s early body of cyber-splatter work, standing in marked contrast to his more recent novels, which are notably more grounded in baseline reality – to the extent of hardly being science fiction at all. Set in an ‘alternate future’ that follows on from a Franco-Prussian war where Napolean triumphed, the world has similarities to our own timeline, but marked socio-political differences.

Here, Grimwood wears his cyberpunk influences on his sleeve, openly acknowledging his antecedents. As might be expected, William Gibson is implicitly credited a number of times; LizAlec’s genetic parents are named Alex Gibson (described as ‘the world’s only living god’) and Stepping Razor (a.k.a. ‘Razz’, a dead electively-modified street-samurai film star who owes more than just her nickname to Molly from Neuromancer), both of whom are characters carried over from Grimwood’s earlier books. There are other sf-nal references Easter-egged away in the story – for example, Bob Shaw’s ‘slow glass’ racks up yet another citation.

It’s not only the sf canon that gets a tip of the hat in reMix, though. In much the same way as many graphic novels, the text is laden with little touch-points and knowing references to postmodern culture in the ‘real’ world beyond the story. This is a novel that is unashamedly conscious of its existence as a piece of fiction, and as a text within the greater arena of culture at large.

This density of texture doesn’t indicate a triumph of style over substance, at least not entirely. As the synopsis above illustrates, this is a very busy novel, packed tight with detail and incidental digressions of plot. It is also very much ‘of its era’, in tune with the cultural overload of the mid- to late-90s and that period’s seeming love-affair with graphic sex and violence. However this surfeit of action, while creating a frantic sense of pace, does create a rather disjointed and fragmentary feel to the story overall. This is somewhat exacerbated by the way the narrative leaps between character viewpoints with little warning, lending to the proceedings the hallucinogenic properties of a fever dream. There are so many ideas that pass by underdeveloped and unexamined that the reader can be left somewhat bewildered by it all – occasionally flicking back a chapter or two is not only rewarding, but arguably mandatory.

All in all, reMix has an inconsistency that mars its potential, alternating as it does between filigreed close-ups and rapid exposition and action – the ending especially seems overly swift, and bristles with loose ends. But the book’s failings as a perfect piece of literature don’t retard its ability to thrill and entertain. Any connoisseur of gritty hardboiled cyberpunk will doubtless enjoy the vivid and technology-laden setting and the drug-fueled bloody-knuckled plotting. reMix is a book that will draw smiles and winces from a reader in equal measure – provided they don’t take it any more seriously than it takes itself.

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