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Version 43 by Philip Palmer

01/01/2011. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy Version 43 in the USA - or Buy Version 43 in the UK

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pub: Orbit. 529 page small enlarged paperback. Price: GBP 8.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-84149-921-5)

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Philip Palmer’s reality of the future colonisation of other worlds in ‘Version 43’ relies on quantum mechanics, as he piss-takes in his appendixes explaining how transportation developed. With the uncertainty of whether something or someone appearing elsewhere is 50/50, you have an even change of arriving safely or in a form that is likely to be dead. Consequently, the initial colonists tend to be people with little to lose which explains a dispossession of the criminal element on some planets and why galactic cops, cyborgs essentially, are sent to sort out particular crimes.

The planet Balladonna is extremely corrupt and only one galactic cyborg policeman is assigned to sort things out. His initial focus is the simultaneous death of half a dozen medics in a grotesque way. Things don’t go particularly well and with his Version 43 body destroyed and the source of the book title, his resurrection in his next body, Version 44, thinks his previous had been defective in some way until he is also destroyed. With Version 45 body, who thinks his previous two bodies went about things the wrong way, decides to transplant his memory block into a more human-looking body to go deep undercover and ultimately destroys the two leading gangs. It is the discovery that there is an even deeper secret society populating the planets and that he’s been corrupted by them or at least his memories have, that he decides to infiltrate them. They won’t know. After all, they think he’s dead.

Written in first person, a lot of the book is left for you to unravel as to what is going on. The only confusing bits are the interludes with the Hive-Rats that don’t appear to make any connection to the rest of the story until much later and are positively weird in how they communicate with each other. Palmer obviously loves to play with the format of the page but I’ll have to leave it to you as to whether or not he gets his message across. I applaud the inventiveness of the gesture but left wondering how alien it is.

Without wishing to give too much away, the story does end more on a surreal note which is a little at odds with the more straight-forward approach of the rest of the novel. I hope that was more to do with the original idea than merely running out of ideas as to what to do next. In many respects, ‘Version 43’ is really more a super-powered detective story with a saving grace that Palmer slips in a reason why things are different before inflicting damage on his cyborg cop.

Saying that, the story will keep your attention even if the number of characters somewhat diminishes without replacement through the course of its pages. The ideas behind this reality harken back to the reality building of SF’s Golden Age and whether or not Palmer continues with stories on Balladonna, he really ought to show us some of the other planets as well because there’s a lot of ideas to be discovered here.

GF Willmetts

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