Published: 23rd October 2013 by Allen & Unwin
Format: Paperback, 416 pages
Genres: Science Fiction
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Clair lives in a world revolutionised by d-mat, a global teleport system that allows people to transport themselves instantaneously around the world. When a coded note promises improvement - the chance to change your body any way you want, making it stronger, taller, more beautiful - Clair thinks it's too good to be true, but her best friend, Libby, is determined to give it a try.
What starts as Libby's dream turns into Clair's nightmare when Libby falls foul of a deadly trap. With the help of Jesse, the school freak, and a mysterious online friend called Q, Clair's attempt to protect Libby leads her to an unimagined world of conspiracies and cover-ups. Soon her own life is at risk, and Clair is chased across the world in a desperate race against time.
This is a superbly clever book. This is a riveting adventure of epic proportions. This is a disturbing future. This is Jump, the first book of Sean Williams’ Twinmaker series.
Instant gratification. That’s the premise if this book. You can instantly transport yourself anywhere in the world. You can fabricate anything you want immediately through a “fabber”. It’s fun, it’s free, and it sounds amazing. But if people are taken apart and put back together at their destination, how do we determine if they are unchanged through the process? What about the soul? And thinking further: what if you changed things about yourself using the d-mat? Clair struggles with all these questions and more as she tries to save her best friend Libby from the devastating effects of Improvement. She has a week to save Libby: other victims of the Improvement have died within seven days.
The relationship between Clair and Jesse is really interesting, because of the vast differences in their outlooks. The only analogue we have today if someone told us something as permeative as the Internet is unsafe, and they live their lives without it. For the most part it sounds crazy, and we’d be inclined to scoff at it. Thus Clair has believable reactions Jesse’s views about the evils of d-mat – she spends a long time being sceptical and humouring Jesse and his like-minded acquaintances. I like Clair – I admire her determination and ability to take new situations in stride. I like how she is uncomfortable with violence, doesn’t want to fire a weapon, and gets hurt the first time she’s physically violent. Clair brings other things to the table, and uses them instead of violence to achieve her goals. However, I initially identified with Jesse rather than Clair because his lifestyle is more what I am used to. His family has a kitchen and cooks, presumably does laundry, grows vegetables and produces things with their hands. Clair’s family just fabricates everything they need and I found it quite alien at first.
A small disclaimer: I almost did my PhD in Quantum Mechanics, so I flatter myself that I understand the basics of the technology at play in Jump. I thought the world building immensely clever. Williams tells us briefly about the runaway affects of global warming, the water wars, and how the invention of the d-mat changed the world. There’s no need for money in a world where everyone can create whatever they want, there aren’t any resource shortages and everyone basically has a hobby career. School is for learning to interact with other people, not necessarily for teaching kids other skills they’ll need in the future. I think the two AI’s who control the d-mat system are very interesting, and the more we found out about them – through the somewhat clumsy metaphor of a bus with a driver and conductor – the more I wanted to know.
The other character of import in the book is the mysterious Q, who contacts Clair via the Air (like the Internet, but way better) with information about the Improvement. I’d pegged what Q was from the very first time we met her, and then had to wait until Clair figured it out right at the end. This annoyed me a little – it was so blindingly obvious to me: in the syntax of how she spoke, in the way she acted. I also thought that Clair relied on Q too often and too readily: Q took a lot of Clair’s agency from her. I think it was easy for Williams to have Q do anything that Clair couldn’t – hack into computers, drive complicated machinery, etc. but it meant that Clair basically did nothing for the middle part of the book except run around and get betrayed a few times.
The set-up of this novel has all the signs of a romance-centric story with a bit of dystopia thrown in for fun. However, after Libby is exposed to Improvement, the trajectory of the story very quickly morphs into something more action-filled and, to be honest, more worthwhile. However, this means that some readers may despair at how important the romance seems to be at first, and perhaps stop reading. Which would be a shame because this is an amazing book where the romantic plot-line is pushed into the background (which is not to say I didn’t enjoy it, because the two times it cropped up, I went all mushy).
I like the world of Jump. I’m invested in the characters, and I love the way Sean Williams tells this story. I think it’s the perfect book for those looking to read a science fiction story with a little dystopia thrown in, with an awesome cast of characters and interesting science. I can’t wait for the next two books, entitled Crash and Fall.
Jump. Crash. Fall. Isn’t that clever?