111/10010 – Binary by Stephanie Saulter

binaryThis book is book two in the Revolution series and a direct sequel to the excellent Gemsigns. If you haven’t read Gemsigns, then read no further.

Gemsigns is a great book. Perhaps a little heavy on the details, but it’s a rich dystopian novel that examines prejudice and what it is to be human. It does what all good science fiction novels do. It makes you think.

Binary is a direct follow on from Gemsigns, featuring the same characters. With most of the world building done in the first novel, this is more a straight-forward story with less sociology, and I think it suffers for that. Binary’s story is an interesting one, but I didn’t find the themes it explored as thought provoking as those in its predecessor.

Saulter’s tendency to info dump is still present, and this time I found the information more confusing than enlightening. It details complicated computer systems, nested shadow companies within the Gemtech industry, and theoretical genetic manipulation techniques. The volume of information given sometimes overwhelms the story.

The structure also vexed me. There’s a straightforward narrative interspersed with flashbacks to events years before. This is nothing wrong with this in principle but whilst the flashbacks are predominantly written from the perspective of Aryel, one or two of them weren’t, with little or no indication that this was case.  As a result, I’d be reading for half a page or so, before realising that it didn’t makes sense in the context of what had come before, and that I must be reading about another character. I’d have to stop and reread in light of this realisation which jarred me out of the story.The arbitrary nature of the flashbacks’ point of view, highlights that they are only there to divulge important plot information. It goes back to series’ biggest issue; telling rather than the showing.

That’s the negative stuff out of the way. It shouldn’t stop you from continuing on with this intriguing set of books. Binary is a good read. It’s exciting and keeps the reader hooked and entertained until the end.  Once you’re past the info overload, the political skulduggery gives rise to great suspense scenes and interesting twists – some obvious, so much less so. The provenance of gems, Aryel, Rhys, Callan and computer savant Herran is a mystery but will that mystery be resolved?  

The villain from the previous novel, Zackva Klist has turned over a new leaf. Her gemtech organisation wishes to start afresh, a partnership with the gems. Is she simply trying to maintain a commercial footing in the new world order or does this new compliance hide sinister intentions?

Again there are interesting parallels to the real-world, particularly in the area of equality and prejudice. Saulter also uses her world to extrapolate what technology’s next steps might be, focusing on the human-tech interface. I haven’t read many cyberpunk novels, I certainly don’t consider myself an expert, but this has the feel of post Facebook/Twitter cyberpunk.

Overall I enjoyed Binary, it’s a interesting tale that takes place in a well constructed world, but I can’t help but feel a little disappointed it doesn’t match Gemsigns for depth of vision and incisive observation.

Many thanks to Andrew at Jo Fletcher Books for sending me a copy of Binary.


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