Capacity review

When reality itself is a tricky concept…

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329 PAGES · £10.99

Tony Ballantyne



Rating: 2.5/5

In the 23rd century, society is apparently sane and ordered. In the socalled atomic world of that period, want has been banished. Beyond the grave, losing your corporeal body is no longer a death sentence. Instead, people live on in the digital world as personality constructs. But trouble is brewing in this decidedly utopian vision of the future. As mankind begins its exploration of the universe, AIs are committing suicide on the planet Gateway. What’s going wrong out there?

Heavily influenced by cyberpunk, yet written in a style that’s closer to hard SF, Tony Ballantyne’s second novel is certainly imaginative. This is a universe, for instance, where reality-warping Schrödinger boxes litter Gateway, sneakily moving when you take your eyes off them.

If only more of the rest of the novel were as playful and as much fun. As Ballantyne constructs a twin narrative – one half focused on Gateway, another on investigator Judy and her digital alter-egos as she hunts seriously maladjusted criminals – Capacity soon becomes laboured.

In part, the problem lies with the central set-up. The notion of a society that’s overseen by an all-powerful, nearmythical AI, the Watcher, who might or might not be benign, is just too Star Trek. There’s a more serious problem, though. Instead of setting out the rules of his future universe early, defining how the reality-real and the digital-real work and then moving on with the narrative, Ballantyne seems fascinated by the more intricate details of his world and how it works – which is sadly often at the expense of getting to know some potentially intriguing characters.

Jonathan Wright

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