False Hearts by Laura Lam
|Book Name:||False Hearts|
|Publisher(s):||Tor Books (US) Macmillan (UK)|
|Formatt:||Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook|
|Genre(s):||Science Fiction / Crime Thriller|
|Release Date:||June 14, 2016 (US) June 16, 2016 (UK)|
How would you react if the most important person in your life was being accused of a murder you know they couldn’t possibly have committed? How far would you go beyond your comfort zone to prove them innocent? Would you risk your future, even your life, to save theirs?
Taema and Tila were born as conjoined twins. The majority of their life they grew up in a cult-like environment within a small rural town, connected to a forest. Their life was quiet, secluded and literally together. Then, at the age of 16, everything changed. The two found themselves in the technologically advanced San Fransisco and were being given an operation to separate from one another. It would allow them to live separate lives…
Moving on from this existence, where you are never alone and ‘limited’ to what nature has to offer, life after the procedure is a complete shock for both twins. They’ve gone from a world that rejects technology to a world that embraces and abuses it. The people of San Fransisco chase perfection and bliss. Whether this is through cosmetic changes to their appearance, implants that improve their senses or the ability to enter ‘dreams’ and indulge their desires, it’s all easily available in Lam’s near-future world.
The novel starts when Tila tears into Taema’s place covered in blood. She refuses to explain what has happened and moments later the police show up demanding that Tila come out. We learn that we are 10 years post-operation and whereas Taema has withdrawn into a quiet home life, Tila’s life has gone down a more volatile path. Before Taema can get any answers as to what is going on, the police swarm in and arrest Tila for murder. Although Taema has worried about Tila growing increasingly distant and being more difficult to reach, she knows her twin could not have killed a living person.
After rushing to speak with the officer in charge of Tila’s case, Taema is able to convince him to listen to her. Although reluctant to show it, the officer seems to have a soft spot for Taema – perhaps because she is attractive, but more likely it is due to her being unlike people who grew up in San Fransisco. He offers her a way to prove (or dis-prove) her sister’s innocence. Because no one knows Tila has been arrested, he tells Taema there is an opportunity for her to take Taema’s place and get to the bottom of how and why this murder took place.
The full extent of Tila’s life needs to be understood by Taema first though, Tila is involved with some very shady activities and extremely dangerous people. By taking on Tila’s identity, she is agreeing to enter a world of organised crime, deadly dream drugs and brain-hacking. The people she interacts with will be either addicts or those coming up with new ways to exploit those who need a fix.
Dreams are a very important part of the novel. Like alcohol dream drugs are legal, but the government has strict rules surrounding their use. We have clubs, kind of dream parlours, where people can go to experience lucid dreams. These dreams work in a way that the old tragedies of Shakespeare’s time were said to work. That is, the customer goes there in order to experience darkness and extreme emotions – things they would never dream of doing in real life. For example, hitting one’s boss or killing one’s wife, or partying like a lunatic, having sex with someone you shouldn’t, etc. The acts purge these emotions from your system and mean you are unlikely to actually do them day-to-day or even think about them. Like any other drug though, dreams can get addictive and there is plenty of money to be made from those who are addicted. And, as we all know, where there is money to be made, dangerous people tend to flock.
In this instance, the bad guys are the Ratel. The Ratel are keen to introduce a new drug that allows dreams to get far, far darker than the government would ever sanction. In addition, the purge effect doesn’t seem to happen with these drugs. So, rather than leaving the negative emotions (such as rage) in the club, people will end up leaving with the dark emotions whirring around in their heads, which could lead to some serious crimes.
The world Laura Lam has created is reminiscent of masterful sci-fi novels of old, such as Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? That is, it’s a world where everything is innovative and interesting, whilst at the same time being well explained and fitting in logically. Nothing is there for novelty value, it all feels like natural evolution: whether these are eye implants that allow improved vision or the technology that allows people to cross into another’s dream. There is a real feeling of authenticity and likeliness to this future world that I feel is often lacking in the modern-day sci-fi genre, which tends to be primarily space opera based.
Laura Lam’s writing style is also very fluent and filled with emotion. Although this isn’t a young adult novel, there are certainly traits of a YA shelved title within. The exploration of sexuality, the intense/intimate feelings that are passed to the reader, the wonderfully easy to read and compulsive prose. The surprising effect of all this beauty and ease is the contrast it has with its subject, which is very dark, edgy and atmospheric. I don’t imagine this was a purposeful device choice by the author, but it is one that works very well. I imagine this contrast is a big part of why BBC Radio 2 was so keen to include it as part of its Book Club.
The story rolls along at a fantastic pace. Although we have a multitude of characters and concepts introduced to us, the story is always suspenseful and tempting the reader to turn just one more page. This is achieved by the blend of dangerous scenes, questions raised and answers teased at but not given until the very end of the novel. Additionally, in typical Laura Lam fashion, the relationships between characters are interesting, sexy and believable. Lam has won awards in the past for her comfort writing LGBT characters and our protagonist is a great example of why.
Speaking of characters and relationships, there are more than just Taema and Tila, however they aren’t the kind that you expect we will be seeing spin-off stories of. Rather, as Taema navigates through this strange, dark world that the author has created, we run into these interesting people that have been affected or adapted themselves in some way to suit life in San Fransisco. In this way, I guess we can pick up on the inspiration from the fantasy novels that Laura Lam has undoubtedly read – the type where a character is on a journey and meets new and interesting individuals who reluctantly give up clues. Whether these characters are addicts, drug dealers, enhanced detectives, over-worked and under-payed morgue attendants, etc. – they aren’t too far off from rogues, assassins, guards and clerics who we’d expect to meet in the works of Tolkien, for example.
An added effect of this novel is that we, the reader, always know that the Tila that these other characters are meeting is really Taema. Told in the first person, Tila is very nervous about having to act as Taema and there is always the feeling that a bomb could go off at any minute should she set a foot wrong. Again, this adds to the suspense of the novel and ensures that each and every meeting is worth our time and attention. Even if Tila thinks she got away with the encounter, we may not think she has.
In terms of negatives, I find it hard to point out too many. Certainly, this book won’t be for everyone. If you aren’t a fan of science fiction/futuristic crime thrillers, then you probably won’t pick it up. If you like really dark, gritty crime thrillers or want something with a really complex plot, then, again, you probably want to look closer at those specific genres.
What Laura Lam has come up with in False Hearts is a book that is as retro as it is modern. It is a book that Phillip K. Dick would have been proud to have his name on, but at the same time explores all kinds of modern topics such as drugs, sexuality and human-enhancement. The recent inclusion of Laura Lam to BBC Radio 2’s Book Club and the national press should mean that she picks up a huge audience for this title and many new fans for subsequent ones too. If you want a fast, compulsive read for the summer, you can’t go wrong with False Hearts.