Version 43 by Philip Palmer

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Version 43 by Philip Palmer

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Category: Science Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Bone
Reviewed by Jill Bone
Summary: A chaotic robot thriller that is great fun nevertheless.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 560 Date: October 2010
Publisher: Orbit
ISBN: 978-1841499215

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Version 43 is a Galactic Cop, a cyborg law enforcement officer sent from Earth to tackle an unusual murder case in Lawless City, a sort of sci-fi Baltimore on the distant planet of Belladonna. He gets sidetracked from his original objective and decides to rid the planet of its evil gang bosses while he's there. A huge war ensues in which all the bosses (and thousands of others) are killed, but it soon becomes apparent that the true rulers of the planet are the dead eyed 'children' he has seen dining in the most expensive restaurants, the sinister ancien régime .

A handy capability our cop possesses is that he can die and be reborn over and over again, which happens a lot. Getting killed instantly triggers the generation of another version of himself, which is then sent down from his own spaceship, in constant orbit around Belladonna on autopilot. (Hence Version 43 is the latest version of Galactic Cop at the start of the novel). The disadvantage of this is that the new versions have all emotional data wiped from their memory, and so personal relationships that the cop has formed have to be rebuilt from scratch every time he dies.

This naturally makes life frustrating for Galactic Cop and the love interest of the novel, Aretha Jones, a human fellow officer. The cop has to reassess his response to her every time he meets her again, and his attitude to her varies according to the situation the two are placed in. At one point he suspects Aretha of subterfuge and stands by and watches while her jaw is shot off by a gangster he has impulsively decided to take on. (This isn't quite as cruel as it sounds; rejuve technology being readily available, her jaw is replaced in no time.)

The book never really makes it clear why the cop isn't able to focus on the murder case he's been sent to investigate. He just seems determined to fight crime whenever he sees it, which can make the plot a bit haphazard. Following his original mission would've ultimately led him to the gangsters and their sinister paymasters anyway.

The cop's mysterious drive to 'clean up' Lawless City leads him to the anciens, who have ultimate control of the planet. They are one of the strongest bits of the story and I wished there had been more of them. They turn out to be harvesting the bodies of Belladonna's most beautiful children, then taking over their bodies so they can stay forever young. There's something uniquely creepy about these ancient sociopaths with the bodies of small children.

My main gripe about this book is that there's just too much going on. Too many baddies (a three eyed pimp, space rodents with the ability to alter the flow of time), too many ideas knocking about (quantum physics, free will, what makes us human?) and too many wars (three wars?!). It might've been a more focussed novel if it were a third shorter (it's nearly five hundred pages long) with just one major set of baddies for Galactic Cop to take on.

Don't let those reservations put you off, though. Who needs subtle, 'literary' science fiction anyway right? This book is terrific fun, full of crazy techno equipment and ultra-violent action. It’s as though the author had so many great ideas that he was determined to cram them all into this one novel, so you get about ten novels for the price of one; great if you look at it in a 'glass half full' kind of way. This book should appeal to any confirmed sci-fi fan and is worth reading even if you're not.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

Further reading suggestion: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K Dick

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