Bedlam, by Christopher Brookmyre, Orbit, RRP£17.99, 378 pages
Disgruntled corporate-science drone Ross Baker volunteers as a test subject for a new medical body-scanner. Next thing he knows, he’s been uploaded into a futuristic combat video game.
So far, so Tron. But crime writer Christopher Brookmyre’s first foray into science fiction offers a lot more than merely recreating the experience of playing a first-person shooter. As Ross explores his virtual world, dying and respawning countless times, he learns that there are conduits to similar artificial worlds and that he is not the only person whose consciousness is trapped. The plot gallops towards a signposted rug-pulling twist that surprises.
Brookmyre’s droll narrative style, riddled with sci-fi in-jokes, humorous bathos and top-notch creative profanity, elevates the novel above being just a belated entry in the cyberpunk canon. Bedlam – both a jovial satire and a geeky celebration of gamer culture – is enthralling fun.
The Best of All Possible Worlds, by Karen Lord, Jo Fletcher Books, RRP£20, 325 pages
Dllenahkh is one of the last surviving Sadiri, a race whose home world has been destroyed. On a mission to find mates to bring his kind back from the brink of extinction, he arrives on the tropical backwater planet Cygnus Beta, where Grace Delarua, a government biotechnician, acts as his local liaison. Both are fiercely intelligent, but beyond that could not be less alike: he austere and inscrutable, she a creature of emotion.
As Grace begins to display latent telepathic abilities that almost match Dllenahkh’s, they form a bond. Inevitably they fall in love, but their journey is unpredictable.
After her award-winning debut Redemption in Indigo, Karen Lord’s second novel carries deliberate echoes of Ray Bradbury’s classic Mars colonisation stories. It’s refined, meditative and life-affirming, and its exploration of gender politics and ethnology confirms Lord as the natural heiress to Octavia Butler and Ursula Le Guin.