Circuit of Heaven, Dennis Danvers

Avon/EOS, 1998, 373 pages, C$19.00 hc, ISBN 0-380-97447-9

The first few months of a new SF imprint are always exciting, even when it’s really a repackaging of an existing one (in this case, Avonova becoming Avon/EOS, a considerably less catchy moniker) In this case, it’s been even more interesting than usual since the fine folks at Avon/EOS are intent on trying out several new things to make their new imprint stand out.

For instance, there’s their insistence to use only design elements on their covers. What this means is that you’ll never see a Michael Whelan illustration on an Avon/EOS book: Figurative illustrations are out and abstract designs are in. I like cover illustrations, so I don’t like this. Time will tell. Never say never… We’ll see in two or three years about the Whelan cover.

The other interesting marketing strategy is that once a month, Avon/EOS selects one of their hardcover publication and shrink it down. The result is a physical object that’s slightly bigger than a paperback, but with hard covers. It’s pretty ugly and doesn’t look very serious, but it sells for nineteen Canadian dollars. Not bad.

Such is the case with Dennis Danver’s Circuit of Heaven. Ugly format, ugly design on the cover. But as the novel reminds us, appearances can be deceiving. Let’s take a look inside.

The novel begins nicely enough, with a first chapter that’s straight exposition: So there’s a guy who perfected personality upload into computers, and virtual reality’s so powerful that almost everyone on Earth has chose to turn themselves virtual. The Pentagon has been converted to house these twelve billion (!) personalities. So far, so very very interesting.

At this point, five pages into the novel, we might expect to be set for a fascinating exploration of the human spirit when the body becomes irrelevant. What can twelve billion personalities do together? What might be the repercussions of immortality and constant well-being on relationships? Can you combine personalities or split them off?

Mistake.

This novel remains to be written. Instead, we get a sappy romance between what is initially a rebellious “real” guy and a troubled virtual girl. I used “sappy” in the nicest possible way: As romances go, this one’s fair enough that I didn’t feel too cheated by the lack of willingness of the novel to explore its own concepts deeper than as background props.

Fortunately, this romance-for-the-virtual-nineties is written well enough, and with enough twists of the sub-plot to entertain most readers. Not all of it is meaningful (a competent editor could have removed at least fifty pages, perhaps a hundred.) but it holds together fairly solidly. Fortunately, characters are okay (Although they -and other things- bear an uncanny resemblance to this year’s movie DARK CITY), as is the prose style.

Thematically, it’s an unusual work in that is casually expects everyone to be all fudgy-happy to get virtual. I disagree, but then again that’s just me. Still, the back-cover blurb reads like a Wired slogan: “The Body is Baggage. The Soul is expendable. The Future is Virtual.”

No fireworks, no Hugo awards for Danvers. But Circuit of Heaven is good enough to make you forget the unusual format it’s printed upon. Definitely not your run-of-the-mill SF, this romantically-flavored novel should appeal to anyone looking for something slightly different.

Despite my misgivings related to some aspects of Avon/EOS’s initiatives, I can only applaud their decision to take chances with newer, less familiar authors. Danvers is reportedly working on a semi-sequel to Circuit of Heaven. With hope, this one’ll examine the implications of its framework. Until then, I’d recommend keeping an eye on the Avon/EOS line.

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