Women of Genre Fiction reading challenge I selected Debris (2011) by Jo Anderton. It is a first part in the Veiled World trilogy. The second part, Suited, has been published last year while the third part Unbound is scheduled for sometime next year. I got a whole bunch of Angry Robot title last year for a bargain price and this was one of them. It has been lingering on the electronic to read stack for quite a while now. I even meant to read it earlier in the year for the reading challenge by every time some other book managed to sneak in first. Fortunately for Anderton I ran out of books by women I haven't read anything of before last month so the last slot is hers. As usual with Angry Robot publications, Debris is a book that is hard to put into a specific genre. Their strategy to look for books that are different has given us a number of very good novels but also some that don't work that well. Debris works for the most part but it is not the most challenging read I've come across this year.
Tanyana is one of Varsnia's most important architects. Her supreme tallen in handing the pions, the force that drives most of Varsnia's society, has placed her at the very pinnacle of her filed, in control of one of the most talented circle of pion manipulators. When working on another magnificent construction, two inspectors show up to monitor the work. Promptly, something goes awfully wrong. Tanyana and her circle are attract by a type of pions she has never encountered before and the whole collapses around her. She is seriously wounded in the accident and when she regains consciousness she is discredited, in debt and has lost her talent to see pions. Tanyana has lost everything that defined her life.
Debris is a very fast paced novel. Anderton tries to hit the ground running and in terms of pacing she certainly have. I have wondered if a more measured approach would have worked better in this case. We don't get to see any of Tanyana's life before the accident. What we do learn of it, makes her come across as spoiled and unaware of how privileged she is. Her accident is horrible and obviously not as accidental as the authorities would have us believe but I couldn't quite suppress that feeling that a bit moe humility would have suited her. Because we really can't connect the way she reacts to the trauma of her accident, her response to it doesn't add as much to her character development as it might have.
What is clear is that she has lost a lot. Her talent for manipulating poins has been replaced for seeing debris, a waste product associated with pion manipulation. To prevent the debris to interfere with the working of all kinds of pion machinery and the prevent structural damage to the city, debris has to be collected and disposed of. Like waste collection in our world, it is not the most respected or well paid job, to put it mildly. It is however, the way in which Tanyana is supposed to repay her debt to society. Before she has a chance to recover form her wounds, she is outfitted with a suit. A piece of technology fully integrated with her body, adding to the trauma and giving yet another set of scars on top of the ones she already has. Most of the novel, Tanyana is busy adjusting to her new life and, in a series of heartbreaking scenes, finding out, how much her status mattered in her social circles.
Tanyana's response to her change in status is at times a bit problematic. She is ready for a fight at some points but also easily convinced it is futile. She is livid at the injustice that is being done to her but also stunned to inaction at times. The way she hangs on to her old apartment, a place she knows she cannot afford anymore, symptomatic in that respect. When the inevitable eviction comes, it still takes her by surprise. The crisis forces her to examine the extent of her newfound talents but a more active approach in adjusting to her new life would have been more interesting. It is not the only situation in which she only reacts to the challenges she faces instead of trying to think ahead.
The way the novel takes off doesn't leave much room for explaining things. Anderton lets the reader find out how her system of poins and debris works along the way. Earlier in the novel I was wondering if there was some parallel with particle physics but the level of anthropomorphizing of the poins seemed to point in another direction. Gradually a link to the belief system of Varsnia appears. Although the lack of information can be a bit frustrating at times, Anderton manages to dose what information the reader needs very well. If the aim was to keep the pace as high as possible she certainly succeeded. What I did think unlikely about the pion/debris system is the sheer ignorance Tanyana displays about the debris side of things. Pion manipulators may not be able to see it, they certainly feel it's impact. To so completely ignore the subject and leave it to the lowly caste of debris collectors strikes me as more than a little arrogant for someone approaching their field in an almost scientific manner.
While Anderton slips in some information about the wider world, most of the novel is dedicated to Tanyana's search for the truth. The whole accident reeks of a setup of course and when the entire system that has raised her to the highest level of society turns on her, she goes in search of other ways to find out what is going on. A whole new world opens up during this investigation and at the end of the novel a motive for the actions taken against Tanyana is starting to appear. There are more than a few questions left for the sequels however.
Debris has more than a few things going for it. If you like your Fantasy with a twist, or are looking for a book that does things just a bit differently this is probably as good a read as you'll be able to find. It's not a novel of huge complexity or unfathomable depth but it will hold your attention from the first page an not let go until the final chapter has been read. I have some issues with the novel, especially the development of the main character, but that doesn't take away from the fact that I found Debris to be a entertaining read. Not a bad way at all to conclude this year's reading challenge.
Author: Jo Anderton
Publisher: Angry Robot
First published: 2010