Book Reviews:

A Son of the Rock

by Jack Deighton

(Orbit, 374pgs, £5.99 p/b)

Like all good SF or fantasy writing, A Son of the Rock is about much more than it appears on the surface to be concerned with. It is the first novel by author Jack Deighton and a striking entry into the genre it is too. The Rock stands alone, untouched, towering over a massive quarry on a desolate mining planet. Sonny has devoted his life to it - protecting it, respecting it, worshipping it. When Alan, a young and ambitious mining engineer, stumbles across Sonny and his primitive and, to Alan, repellent life-style, it is an encounter that will profoundly change him. For Sonny is an old man, his past etched in every line of his face, and soon he will die of old age. Alan has his own reasons for not taking the youth drug, Euthuol, but it is Sonny, the Rock and Alan's beautiful female companion who will give shape to them. And all three will haunt him for the rest of his life.

Deighton has created a very personal yet welcoming storyline that crams in as much social philosophy as it does realistic characters. It is a book about people not about hardware. People who speak using realistic dialogue in naturally spoken sentences crafted by Deighton's seemingly effortless style. Throughout, the writer pushes events along at a fair pace whilst still maintaining his discourse on the cultural and social ills of a universe not the same as but not too dissimilar to our own. Most of Deighton's veiled attacks revolve around the blandness that comes out of mass conformity and he advocates challenging convention in all its forms. Whether you agree with his opinions or not (and I did) the argument is a fascinating one expertly wrapped in a great read. Only the occasional and often self-indulgent point of reference lets the book down. Chapter titles are named after various (mostly 1980s) chart songs (several taken from Simple Minds) and these jar badly despite being chosen to match the chapter subject matter. Similarly, the idiosyncratic naming of a character 'Perland Dean' (after Pearl and Dean the cinema ad agency) seems like a pointless and intrusive pun. But most bizarre of all is how the author works in the opening lyrics of 60s fantasy TV series Puff the Magic Dragon into a descriptive paragraph! Clever, certainly, but also distracting in the extreme. Nevertheless, overall this is a memorable first novel; one worth reading and a writer worth returning to who shows much promise.

Rob Dyer