Waking up in a world of sci-fi

Title: Bedlam

Author: Christopher Brookmyr


Like a good video game, just when you think you've got a handle on what's going on in Bedlam, it gets more complicated.

Scientific researcher Ross Baker has a neuro-scan as part of his work and wakes up in a world so strange, yet oddly familiar, he struggles to make sense of it.

He's transformed into a sort of cyborgy-type thing, there are dozens of burning aircraft outside under the purple sky and he's expected to join his unit and go and kill Gaians, from the planet Earth.

And Ross thought he'd had a bad morning back in Stirling, Scotland, where his research was dismissed by his American corporate overlord and, having had a big fight with his girlfriend, he believed she was going to leave him until he overheard office gossip that she was pregnant.

Without wanting to give too much away or be a spoiler, Ross has woken up on Graxis, the fictional planet from a 1996 computer game called Starfire, where the dominant race raided its own world's resources then turned to other planets.

Bedlam is a thought-provoking, interesting book that asks philosophical questions regarding consciousness in a sort of Descartes brain-in-a-vat vein. It raises issues about ethics, work-life balance and the importance of family.

The science fiction section on my bookshelves consists of Douglas Adams and a couple of Terry Pratchetts of which I've never been able to read more than the first couple of chapters, so it's not a genre with which I'm particularly familiar but I thoroughly enjoyed Bedlam.

The comparison with Adams is difficult to avoid, particularly when the book is described on the back cover as "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy for a new generation".

Brookmyre is a brilliant writer with fresh ideas and obviously loves and understands computer games to a level of detail that enables his imagination to run unfettered by the rules of physics.

The dialogue is snappy and there are hilarious sections, with intrigue and enough action to make Lara Croft seem like Little Miss Muffet.

Like Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker trilogy, only in five parts, Bedlam is not only for sci-fi purists. It asks universal questions, is funny and original with well-drawn characters - and it's a cracking good story.

Books reviewed are available from The Bookwarehouse in Lismore.

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