By Jon Courtenay Grimwood
First Published: 2000
Review © 2014 by Stephen Roof
Genre: Science Fiction, Noir Spy Thriller, Pulp Fiction
redRobe is a science fiction novel by Jon Courtenay Grimwood that provides a wild and thrilling ride into the future. This is one of Grimwood’s earlier novels and it was his first to be nominated for an award. It’s about an ex reality show star/child assassin named Axl Borja who is tasked by the Cardinal of Mexico to infiltrate a self-contained satellite world containing political refugees in order to track down missing billions that were diverted by the Pope who died recently but may be in the process of being resurrected thanks to the latest advances in technology. If that sounds complex, it’s actually only the tip of the iceberg as this novel also contains a talking gun with artificial intelligence and a UN military force with high tech weapons and brutal tactics that seem to be on a collision course with Axl.
This is a very high paced novel as the story hurtles along with hardly a break to catch its breath. There are no long expositions. Facts, current events, and the occasional flashback are blasted at the reader like a fire hose. Initially, the sudden jumps from scene to scene are a bit confusing but things settle down a little when Axl’s real quest begins. Throughout, the reader is totally immersed in a radical future which comes across as being much more realistic than expected. The author obviously had fun with some of his futuristic extrapolations such as reality shows which have gone beyond excessive and guns which have become artificially intelligent with sarcastic wit.
The main characters in this novel are fleshed out nicely. The protagonist, Axl Borja, is a likeable anti-hero who fits in perfectly with a noir mystery. When asked to give one reason why his life should be spared, Axl replies, “I can’t”, “There isn’t one”. He’s better at dealing with danger than dealing with feelings but finds that on this mission he is not always able to remain objective. The Cardinal is man who knows how to wield power and isn’t afraid to let the ends justify the means. Kate is the main target of Axl’s investigations as she was the closest confident of the late Pope and Axl finds she is more than religiously dedicated to the Pope’s cause. A young Japanese prostitute also figures into the mix along with some tough military types including both men and women who seem to relish any chances for violence.
Rest assured that redRobe is not a novel that takes itself too seriously. It includes a noir atmosphere with plenty of fast action scenes, tongue in cheek comedy, serious violence, occasional graphic sex, and highly imaginative futuristic technologies. At times it verges on getting too over the top but then it settles back down to some serious drama with interesting characters. In short, this is an intelligent pulp novel of the best sort that provides a thoroughly entertaining romp through the future. I have to say that redRobe is one of the best novels I’ve read for pure un-adulterated fun and it would be perfect to put on your list of must read novels for the summer.