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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


David Musgrave

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To purchase Lambda

Title: Lambda
Author: David Musgrave
Genre: Novel
Written: 2022
Length: 345 pages
Availability: Lambda - US
Lambda - UK
Lambda - Canada
from: Bookshop.org (US)

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Our Assessment:

B+ : compelling and very well presented

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times . 7/3/2022 James Lovegrove
The Guardian A 11/3/2022 Lisa Tuttle

  From the Reviews:
  • "(T)he reader's job is made more difficult by tricksy storytelling and sometimes florid writing. There's a neat idea here nonetheless, and it's hard to escape the impression that Musgrave is delivering a scathing critique of the attitude towards migrants in Brexit Britain." - James Lovegrove, Financial Times

  • "An imaginative revisioning of some of today's fears and fantasies, written with bravura style and wit, this is literary SF at its best." - Lisa Tuttle, The Guardian

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Lambda is set mainly in 2019 England -- similar to the real one, but not identical. One of the major differences is the presence of the 'lambdas' of the title -- "as human as you and me", a video documentary maintains, though these air-breathing mammals are smaller in size and live in water. Spawned in the Labrador Sea, young lambdas travel across the Atlantic, some then heading for Iceland, the rest washing up in Portsmouth. They learn English quickly, live in water-filled basements, and mainly work in telesales or low level tech industry jobs -- carried back and forth between workplace and home in containers by human carriers. There are about 100,000 of them n England at the time.
       Another difference is the existence of sentient technology, including household objects with which one can communicate, and which have legal rights. Owners of such objects register with a National Database of Users/Owners of Sentient Objects.
       There is also a Republic of Severax, founded in some very hot part of the world which: "a cabal of serious tech players, plus some venture capitalists looking for free space to pur their funds" run, using it as a place for: "physical research you can't do anywhere else" -- the kinds of scientific research where you'd: "hit legal problems fast if you do any of that privately in a traditional state". As someone sums up: "So, it looks like a criminal state, but it's really a big research facility ?"
       There are several narrative voices in the three-part novel. The first is in the form of monologues by yet another form of being, telling their story to a regular visitor -- a routine the character continues even when not visited ("Hello. How are you ? There is no need for you to respond. It is as clearly evident to me as it must be to you that you are not here"). Relating its experiences -- beginning with: "I remember when I was a certain amount of slime mould protein in a laboratory warming cabinet" -- , and how it wound up in its present quarters, the character presents, with little affect and largely only literal understanding, an increasingly unsettling story, both as to its identity and purpose.
       Much of the rest of the novel relates Cara Anna Gray's experiences, between the summer of 2018 and the fall of 2019. She does not tell her story in the first person, but rather uses the 'EyeNarator Pro' programme. Here, too, the polished, neutral presentation does not delve deep into emotion -- though, throughout, some bubbles under the surface.
       Upon finishing school, Cara had been offered a place at Sussex University, studying English, but readily allowed herself to be convinced by friend Chloe to join an 'activist camp' instead. She doesn't last very long there and enters a police training course instead. Her first assignment is in data surveillance, but when a terrorist attack occurs on her watch, so to speak, she is reässigned and becomes a Supervising Community Support Officer, tasked with engaging with the lambdas -- a community whose situation worsens after the attack, for which they are blamed.
       Lambda addresses quite a variety of issues, from large-scale surveillance to advances in artificial intelligence -- the two also overlapping, as in the "comprehensive system of data shadowing", PARSON, developed by the authorities. Attitudes towards and the treatment of the (natural) 'other', such as the lambdas, also figures prominently, while the concept of sentience becomes blurred in a variety of technological advances.
       Musgrave is very good at atmosphere, not honing in on the specifics of much that happens but rather presenting it almost as background, from the fate of the lambdas to the assassinations that are planned and carried out. He maintains a good degree of air of mystery through most of the novel, the mix of the recognizable and the very strange presented to good effect. Above all, the voices are excellent, the two very different main ones both, in different ways, compelling.
       Lambda isn't entirely clear-cut, without crisp resolutions, but it is long a fascinating world to be immersed in, the presentation, in particular, impressive. All in all, it's a neat and well-presented work of fiction, effectively creepy underneath its surface-calm.

- M.A.Orthofer, 1 August 2022

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Lambda: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       British artist and author David Musgrave was borni in 1973.

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© 2022 the complete review

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