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Multireal: The Jump 225 Trilogy, Book 2
David Louis Edelman
Pyr, 525 pages

David Louis Edelman
David Louis Edelman was born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1971 and grew up in Orange County, California. He received a B.A. in creative writing and journalism from The Johns Hopkins University in 1993. Over the past ten years, Mr. Edelman has programmed websites for the U.S. Army and the FBI, taught software to the U.S. Congress and the World Bank, written articles for the Washington Post and Baltimore Sun, and directed the marketing departments of biometric and e-commerce companies. He lives with his wife Victoria near Washington, DC.

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A review by Paul Kincaid

It has become a cliché: the difficult middle volume in a trilogy. But it's a real problem nonetheless. The main players have been introduced in the first volume, the dramatic situation has been set up, the action has started upon its course, and in all likelihood there has been a satisfying climax because each volume has to work in its own right. In the middle volume you cannot bring in the big action-packed climax, because that has to wait for the final volume; you cannot substantially change the story, because that will make your readers feel like the first volume was a cheat; you can't even introduce too many important new characters, because then you've got to wonder what they were doing hanging round off-stage in the first volume. The author is pretty much left with manoeuvring his characters away from the climactic events of volume one and getting them in place for the start of volume three. Is it any wonder that the middle volume is traditionally the weakest of any trilogy?

There are several strategies that authors have devised to get through the hiatus of volume two, and David Louis Edelman has chosen two of the more venerable and reliable routes through the middle volume of his Jump 225 trilogy. One is the strategy that J.R.R. Tolkien employed in the middle of Lord of the Rings: having brought a team together in volume one, split them up again in volume two. If we have seen that each member of the team brings skills that are needed for ultimate success, splitting them up leaves the reader anxious whether they will be able to get back together again in time to win through in volume three. Edelman handles this strategy very well: our flawed and temperamental hero, Natch, is manipulated out of control of his fiefcorp. We can only wonder whether his successor, Jara, will have the strength of mind to hold the whole thing together, and whether Natch will ever find his way back out of the wilderness.

I am less convinced by his second strategy: changing the focus of the novel. The first volume, Infoquake, was, like its hero, flawed but impressive. What was impressive about it was the world Edelman presented, a freewheeling, freebooting era of capitalism gone mad. Business reigned; everything could be bought and sold, even your appearance and the way you felt; what made the novel distinctive was that we followed a smart yet unprincipled operator where the market held untrammelled power. All of a sudden, this new volume isn't about the business world but about politics. We are no longer following manipulations of the market, but political manipulations that are far less distinctive. And the paean of praise to libertarian politics that hums like a threnody under the surface of the novel is nothing we haven't seen in science fiction going back at least to Robert Heinlein. In other words, this second strategy turns a quirkily inventive work into something much more familiar.

This shift in focus also works a change in the dramatic tension of the novel. In Infoquake, we saw Natch as a morally questionable but dynamic figure always taking the fight to the enemy; and he had many enemies, from business rivals to the sinister Defence and Wellness Council (which I can't help thinking of as the military wing of the Health and Safety Executive), by way of a host of people with a personal animus towards him. But through a host of inventive if underhand tricks and dealings he ended the novel in control of MultiReal, the hot new invention from Margaret Surina, latest representative of the genius clan that has given humanity most of its major technological breakthroughs over the last several centuries. Natch is fast, witty and in control, always the one who instigates action.

By the second volume, however, this is no longer the case: Natch no longer acts, but only reacts. The Defence and Wellness Council, outsmarted by Natch throughout the first volume, here outsmarts Natch at every turn, managing to deprive him of his fiefcorps and his sole control of MultiReal, and arranging for him to be arraigned before the world government in Melbourne. (Like its predecessor, Multireal flits from location to location across the globe, but without any real sense of place.) The trial is the novel's big set piece, but ends in a wild shoot-em-up that is curiously indecisive, as if it is there because the novel needed a change of pace, a bit of violent action, not because the plot really called for it.

In the first volume, Natch was able to turn around his personal enemies, make them a resource he could exploit. In this volume, they reveal themselves to be far stronger than they had previously appeared. The black code shot into Natch during the first volume here turns into far more of a problem than it had been before; and the shoot-em-up in Melbourne allows Natch to be kidnapped. The resultant stand-off between Natch and Brone in the remains of Chicago, in which Brone tries to persuade Natch to work with him rather than against him, is somehow half-hearted, as if both of them know that their main confrontation is still to come.

Meanwhile MultiReal itself, the miracle program that allows its user to run through every possible consequence of any action and choose the desired outcome, proves to have flaws: any face-off between two people who are both using MultiReal can only end in exhausted inaction. Elsewhere, Margaret Surina is assassinated, bringing down the mighty Clan Surina and also leading to the arrest of Natch's lieutenant, Quell, on suspicion of murder. And in the remains of the Natch fiefcorps, deprived of its head, Jara comes to realise that she doesn't have the imagination, the nerve or the luck to be an effective replacement for Natch.

Everything, in other words, serves to tear down the certainties and break apart the alliances of the previous volume. To the extent that we are left, at the end of the volume, wondering whether our heroes can get it together enough to fight back, and indeed whether there is anything worth fighting for, the novel does its job very efficiently. But it does all this by making the enfeebled government of the first volume far more powerful than it had been, by making the Defence and Wellness Council into a rogue state within a state, and by making the libertarian free-market world far less powerful and therefore less interesting than it was.

David Louis Edelman remains an interesting writer, and he can do breathless action very well indeed when he wants. But the only real reason to read this novel is to bridge the gap between Infoquake and the forthcoming final volume of the trilogy. If that third novel returns to the quirkiness and intentness of the first book, then it promises to be really good. If, however, it continues the relatively routine politicking of this volume, then it will probably all end in disappointment.

Copyright © 2008 by Paul Kincaid

Paul Kincaid is the recipient of the SFRA's Thomas D. Clareson Award for Distinguished Service for 2006. His collection of essays and reviews, What it is we do when we read science fiction is published by Beccon Publications.

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