Monday, 3 December 2012

Shifting Reality by Patty Jansen

Shifting Reality by Patty Jansen is a novel set in the same universe as several of her short stories. I have previously reviewed the short story "The Rebelliousness of Trassi Udang", which is set on the same space station as Shifting Reality.

Melati is a third generation resident of New Jakarta space station. She's one of few of her class (those of Indonesian decent) to work with the ISF (International Space Force — the successor to the UN). Her job is training cohorts of engineered soldiers who are grown as children. They grow and are trained up quickly into adult workers. The story opens when something strange happens with the new cohort batch and one of them wakes up not as the mindbase Melati had programmed, but as someone completely different. The question is who and why?

Meanwhile, the ISF and tier 1 residents have a generally low opinion of the tier 2 (from which Melati came). Similarly, Melati's family and neighbours disapprove of her working for "the man", leaving Melati stuck in the middle, somewhat outcast from both cultures. All this is emphasised when trouble starts to brew and suddenly more enforcers are checking people for ID more frequently, preventing some miners (the main workers of New Jakarta) from going to work. Between that, the troubled new cohort and the baby smugglers she suspects are zeroing in on her cousin, Melati has her hands full.

I really enjoyed this novel. There were a few slightly slow patches near the start, but by about halfway I couldn't put it down, staying up late to finish reading. Melati is a great character who stands up for what she believes in an entirely plausible way. The type of comments Grandma made about being true to her roots and Melati's reaction that she didn't understand the new world they were living in rang true. I can't comment on the authenticity of the Indonesian and other cultural elements Jansen included, but the general themes of being a third generation no-longer-quite-a-migrant-at-that-point felt similar (albeit on a larger scale) to some of my own experiences.

Jansen tied together seemingly disparate several story lines into one cohesive plot well, and by the halfway-ish point I was dying to know how the remaining plot elements were going to turn out to be related. Shifting Reality stands alone, but there is definitely room for sequels and I hope we get to read more about Melati (and the characters whose fates were unknown at the end!). There were also some references in Shifting Reality which have made me move Charlotte's Army, a novella set in the same universe but earlier, up in my virtual TBR pile.

I highly recommend Shifting Reality to anyone looking for some new science fiction, perhaps with a different cultural flavour. I've read several short stories of Jansen's in the past (including this one, which I reviewed earlier this year, and my favourite from last year) and I have noticed her writing improving with time. I definitely look forward to future stories set in this universe (especially if they're about Melati).

4.5 / 5 stars

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