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Living Next Door to the God of Love
Justina Robson
Bantam Spectra, 453 pages

Living Next Door to the God of Love
Justina Robson
Justina Robson lives in Leeds in Yorkshire, UK. She began writing as a child in the 70s. Her short fiction has appeared in various magazines in the UK and the USA. Her first novel, Silver Screen, published in 1999, was nominated for the Arthur C Clarke Award and the British Science Fiction Association Best Novel Award. Her second novel, Mappa Mundi, won the Writer's Bursary.

Justina Robson Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Silver Screen
SF Site Review: Silver Screen
SF Site Review: Natural History
SF Site Review: Natural History
SF Site Review: Mappa Mundi
SF Site Interview: Justina Robson

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Greg L. Johnson

In Living Next Door to the God of Love, Justina Robson is dealing with the stuff of myth and legend. Desire and lust, self-sacrifice and the desire to merge into a greater whole are the essence of Jalaeka, the seemingly god-like character who draws all the other characters in Living Next Door to the God of Love towards him and into his goals and plans. And it all takes place within a thoroughly hard science fiction framework, a landscape determined by the mathematics of string theory, with beings beyond human comprehension capable of manipulating space and time in all eleven dimensions.

Living Next Door to the God of Love is nominally a sequel to Natural History, in which humanity and its post-human creations, the Forged, first encountered Stuff, a bit of eleven-dimensional matter extended into our own four dimensions. Stuff brought contact with Unity, and by the time of Living Next Door that contact is having a profound impact on humanity. Unity can provide access to universes created to amuse and entertain, places such as Metropolis and Sankhara. The dark cloud hovering overhead is called Translation. Coming into contact with Stuff, or sometimes just being in the wrong place for too long can result in Translation into Unity. The claim is that the individual survives, the reality is that to everyone else it looks an awful lot like death.

Living Next Door to the God of Love kicks off when Metropolis is destroyed, and everyone in it Translated. At about the same time, a teenager named Francine runs away to Sankhara. When she meets Jalaeka, her need for love changes him, and places herself and everyone else in danger. For Jalaeka is Unity's ages-old nemesis, and the reason Metropolis was destroyed.

If a god is the embodiment of human urges and desires writ large, transformed into archetype and natural force, then contact with such a being can have a profound impact on the individuals and the god. Everyone who meets Jalaeka is changed by the experience, and at the same time Jalaeka is constantly being affected by the desires and longings of the humans around him. Whether he will be pulled in the direction of Unity or find another path for the expression of his feelings is the central concern of the story. The conflict is between a love that seeks to consume and a love that seeks to free the other. It's one of the great issues of human existence, but not necessarily a common theme in hard science fiction. There have been many attempts at portraying god-like characters in SF, Jalaeka is one of the few whose abilities and motivations seem convincingly greater than human.

Robson sets her story, for the most part, in a post-human playground, a pocket universe featuring an urban landscape surrounded by a vast, expanding wilderness, peopled by humans, Forged, and creatures made of Stuff. It's a fitting setting for an extremely ambitious novel. Living Next Door to the God of Love is one of the rare examples of the sequel outshining the predecessor, the prose is more consistent from beginning to end, the characters more complex and more likeable. The theme of competing aspects of love sets the novel apart, while the setting and occasional hints of mathematics and cosmology leave no doubt that this is a science fiction novel, one in which literary values, philosophical inquiry, and those elements unique to science fiction add up to form a much greater whole.

Copyright © 2006 by Greg L. Johnson

Reviewer Greg L Johnson lives in Minneapolis, MN, where he is fairly certain that none of his neighbors are gods. His reviews also appear in the The New York Review of Science Fiction.

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