Waking Hell by Al Robertson

Rating 9.0/10
A lovely story about the unbreakable connection between two siblings

Leila Fenech is dead. And so is her brother Dieter. But what's really pissing her off is how he sold his afterlife as part of an insurance scam and left her to pick up the pieces. She wants him back so she can kick his backside from here to the Kuiper Belt.

Station is humanity's last outpost. But this battle-scarred asteroid isn't just for the living. It's also where the dead live on as fetches: digital memories and scraps of personality gathered together and given life. Of a sort.

Leila won't stop searching Station until she's found her brother's fetch - but the sinister Pressure Men are stalking her every move. Clearly Dieter's got himself mixed up in something a whole lot darker than just some scam.

Digging deeper, Leila discovers there's far more than her brother's afterlife at stake. Could it be that humanity's last outpost is on the brink of disaster? Is it too late for even the dead to save it?

The second in Al Robertson’s Station Series, Waking Hell is the story of love between a brother and sister, and the fragility of memory in a world where the boundaries between ‘real’ life and digital life are far more difficult to define.

Leila is a fetch - a consciousness composed of her digital self formed during her organic existence and in the first book rescued by her brother from a plague that eroded her memories. Seen as a second class citizen, Leila tries to hide her true nature as much as possible, even from herself. However, her brother Dieter, fascinated by old technology, has an accident when a strange box is sent to him in the post, and on his deathbed signs over his fetch in exchange for a huge payout that would lift Leila out of her precarious existence and into the world of the super rich.

Devastated by the realisation that she won’t be able to see her brother again, Leila sets out to uncover what really happened. Delving deeper than ever into an online world, and trying to keep one step ahead of the pressure men, she will do whatever she can to save what remains of her brother before he glitches into non-existence.

I hadn’t heard of this series before, so didn’t know that this was the second book, but thankfully this story has moved on enough from previous events that it was easy to understand the world of the Station - an outpost for humanity which is ruled by a series of gods and where you can come back from death for another go at life. I kind of imagine it as though the new gods from Neil Gaiman’s American Gods had taken over and all life is constantly connected to the digital world, augmenting reality in an aggressively consumerist fashion.

I find the blurring of what we would consider to be the real world and augmented reality to be fascinating, and Waking Hell is another great take on how humanity could develop as we alter the world around us to be whatever we want it to be, and even overcome death, though of course there are still the problems of prejudice, hatred of the ‘other’, poverty and those who want to change society into what they believe it should look like. When a person can be created from the digital traces they left behind, and when these memories can be rewritten, along with everybody who knows you, this raises interesting questions around what makes a person an individual and how people connect. This book even stretches the definition of what a person is, with highly intelligent AI programmes controlling nanogel forms and for all intents and purposes being an individual in their own right.

At the centre is a lovely story about the unbreakable connection between two siblings that need each other, which forms a focal point around which the entire world, or worlds, are shifting as huge powers struggle for control. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

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