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Wednesday, August 8, 2007

"Radio Freefall" by Matthew Jarpe

Official Matthew Jarpe Website
Order “Radio FreefallHERE
Read An Excerpt HERE
Read Praise HERE

My passion for music is just as strong, if not stronger than my love for reading and writing. So when I first heard about Matthew Jarpe’s debut novel “Radio Freefall”, I was instantly intrigued by its proposed blend of rock n’ roll and science fiction. To be honest, I wasn’t sure how the author was going to make such a combination work, but he did, and “Radio Freefall” could end up being one of my favorite SF novels of the year.

In a nutshell, “Radio Freefall” takes place in the early 2030s, revolving around Walter Cheeseman, head of WebCense which started out as a product to police the World Wide Web for parents and grew into Earth’s most ‘powerful transnational bureaucracy’ by controlling the flow of information. Mr. Cheeseman’s ultimate goal though is world domination, and the first step towards realizing that dream is Unification—one government, one language, one currency, etc. Playing the part of ‘hero’, are a couple of unlikely protagonists: Aqualung, an overweight musician in his early-fifties who’s just as talented with a guitar as he is with technology; and Quinn Taber, a brilliant computer nerd who is obsessed with getting revenge against Walter Cheeseman. Other characters and subplots include the band Snake Vendors and their meteoric rise to fame; Molly, an illegal AI (artificial intelligence) who is Taber’s partner-in-crime; Nationalists who oppose the Unification; a sentient virus called the Digital Carnivore that controls the entire web; crime lords & hitmen; a superintelligence developed by a company on the Moon; and Freefall, a massive space station that plays a key role in the overall story.

All in all, the future Earth that inhabits “Radio Freefall” is vividly rendered by Matthew Jarpe, especially the technologies—AIs, uplinking, reprogramming, holograms, memes that compel a human to commit suicide, engineered viruses used as recreational drugs, living on the Moon, Individual Identification Numbers, etc.—even though a lot of the concepts have already been explored in some variation or other by such authors as Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and William Gibson just to name a few. Partly because of that, but mainly because of my record industry background, I thought Mr. Jarpe’s futuristic music ideas were the most fascinating characteristics in the book, some of which included an underwater arena, Aqualung’s Machine which uses sound to manipulate the moods of a crowd during a live performance, a Feedback movement where bands give the people what they want by altering their music to match the peoples’ tastes & dispositions, an orbital concert, and gigs where individual band members from all across the globe can perform together through holographic projections. Besides the technological aspects, Jethro Tull, Buddy Holly, Les Paul, Kurt Cobain, Spin magazine, Woodstock, and so on are referenced; song lyrics are prominently featured throughout the novel; the fascination between rock stars & death is wittily explored; and other music-related topics are incorporated.

Of course there’s more to “Radio Freefall” than just rock n’ roll and science fiction; there’s a bit of crime noir injected into the mix—Who’s Aqualung? What’s his story? Where did the Digital Carnivore come from?—and a compelling political statement regarding individuality / diversity. As far as the writing, I was pretty impressed by Matthew Jarpe. The pacing was electric, the plot handled pretty smoothly apart from a few lackluster revelations, and I loved the main characters, especially Aqualung who I hope to see in future sequels, which is a strong possibility considering how the book ended ;) In short, I had a lot of fun with “Radio Freefall”, which melded music & science fiction in ways I had never imagined, and I truly believe that Matthew Jarpe is well on his way toward becoming a big-time writer…

FYI: Aqualung is actually the name used by the talented British singer-songwriter Matt Hales, whose most recent album “Memory Man” was released this year. For fans of anyone who likes intelligent, indie-pop…

4 comments:

Tia Nevitt said...

I'm glad you reviewed this. I'll put an announcement over on my blog.

Robert said...

Tia, thanks for the linkage! "Radio Freefall" was a really fun book to read and I'd definitely recommend checking it out if you get the chance...

Fletch said...

Robert-

I would suggest Bradley Denton...

See his novels- "Buddy Holly is Alive and Well on Ganymede", and "Blackburn", - and also his 'shorts' collections- "One Day Closer to Death" and "The Calvin Coolidge Home for Dead Comedians".

Robert said...

Fletch. I appreciate the tips and will look into those titles! Much love & respect...

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