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Official Review: From the Shadows: The Complete Series

Posted: 26 Jun 2014, 20:55
by David Dawson
[Following is the official review of "From the Shadows: The Complete Series" by KB Shaw.]
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From The Shadows is a young adult science fiction novel, set in what appears to be the relatively near future (it is never made explicit). Technology has moved on, but only as far as voice recognition and personalised artificial intelligence for computers. At least at the beginning of the book. Very soon IHT is created - the Interactive Holograph Transmitter, which does largely what you would imagine, creating 3D holograms, that are capable of speech, touch and hearing. They have been created by GundTech, the Norwegian company who invented the original AIs, and are now launching a free online, holographic school. The first tranche of pupils includes Cameron Rush and Rosa Costa, two teenagers from Wisconsin and New Mexico respectively who have conducted a long, platonic online friendship. Their relationship is paralleled by that between investigative journalist Meagan Fletcher and the mysterious erstwhile boy genius who created the AI technology fifteen years ago and has now launched IHT. If any of that sounds confusing in my rendering, it is a testament to Shaw that it is never even fleetingly bemusing in the novel.

What is slightly confusing is the subtitle. Unless I have missed a clever technological pun it seems strange to describe a two part book as "The Complete Series." Particularly as, without wishing to give anything whatsoever away, the ending definitely sets up a future sequel. And the two parts ("Separate Paths" and "Convergence") do not stand alone. The titles of each part seemingly refer to Cameron and Rosa, who in the first part are physically separate, before their holograms unite in the second. "Parallel Parts" may be a more apt title for the first section, as the stories of the two teenagers are cleverly interwoven, mirroring each other throughout, creating a compelling sense of destiny.

The book is certainly not flawless. The comedian Stewart Lee has an excellent routine about Dan Brown, in which his writing style is satirised with the line "the famous man looked at the red cup." Sadly Shaw's prose is sometimes, and only sometimes, along those lines: "the stubby ends of the featureless arms"; "white buildings...under the cool lunar light." The excessive use of adjectives is far more prevalent towards the start of the book, and almost entirely disappears once the novel gets going. My reservations about Shaw's writing style are further assuaged by the many things he does right.

To my mind Hemingway could barely pull off interspersing English sentences with Spanish words and where one of the most lauded writers in the canon failed, Shaw succeeds. One of the greatest tests of science fiction is whether the science stands up, not to rigorous professional examination, but to its own internal logic. Not once did I feel that From the Shadows created any difficult paradoxes, even when it deviated (albeit through holographic projection) into time travel. Shaw even gets away with the joke about someone from the future providing authors with an idea for an as yet unwritten work. I have seen the joke done several times on Doctor Who (and I do not watch Doctor Who), and yet when Shaw deploys it during an encounter between Cameron and Arthur Conan Doyle he eventually bludgeoned me into laughter (it was the HG Wells reference that sealed it, for the record). If the book is occasionally predictable, then it is pleasantly experimental with form. Although told primarily through a straightforward limited third person perspective, alternating between various characters, the novel does divert at various moments into a play script, a question and answer session, and the transcript of a television show. All of which are carried off with aplomb. Shaw even finds time for the occasional piece of piquant satire, as when he compels a fundamentalist religious protester against the new technology to insist that "As rational adults...we must protect our children from this satanic threat."

Although the book does sometimes slip into cliché (young adult romance by numbers, a driven female journalist with no time for friends and family, Cameron is a traditionally geekish hero), there is much more to enjoy than to criticise. Most especially in the novel's loyalty to its most interesting theme; discrimination against artificial intelligence. Shaw raises powerful questions about how human beings very like ourselves view sentient beings " tools", merely because they are man-made. It is a potent idea and one that is not merely raised but integral to the plot.

In the reviews I have written for this website I have been slightly loath to award the maximum number of stars, holding them in reserve for a book of transcendental brilliance. From the Shadows is not transcendentally brilliant. It is, however, a thoughtful, intelligent work that balances characters and ideas with an unrelenting plot. It is, by some distance, the best book I have reviewed for the site. The fact that that by no means denigrates the others I have read, makes it a worthy recipient of 4 out of 4 stars.

Buy "From the Shadows: The Complete Series" on Amazon

Re: Official Review: From the Shadows: The Complete Series

Posted: 29 Jun 2014, 17:26
by kbsbeme01
To clarify, the subtitle "The Complete Series" refers to the fact that the book contains all the episodes of the original online web serial. I admit that it is probably not the ideal choice for a subtitle. :oops: KB Shaw

Re: Official Review: From the Shadows: The Complete Series

Posted: 29 Jun 2014, 18:25
by David Dawson
That makes more sense. As I hope came across, it was confusion rather than a criticism, and fairly minor in the wider context of the review.