DARK HEAVENS, by Roger Levy
Gollancz, 2003, £17.99, 389pp
ISBN 0-575-07244-X

See also my review of Reckless Sleep

Roger Levy's second book is a sequel to his first, Reckless Sleep (which you don't have to have read to understand this one), a well-written but a rather monotonous debut. Dark Heavens is set a few years after the first book - about 100 years into our future.

I was rather surprised to find Levy had produced a sequel to Reckless Sleep since the end of the world in that book was very much nigh. The future was (and in Dark Heavens still is) a choking, dust-covered ecological disaster zone where humanity is clinging on to life by the skin of its teeth. Apparently we've just about held on.

Cy Auger (or should that be 'augur', and if so, of what…?) is a policeman with special responsibility for CMS - Consensual Mass Suicide, which basically means rubberstamping and observing these frightening events. As if his job wasn't depressing enough, not only is the planet f****d but so is Cy's life, following the death of almost all his friends and the virtual loss of his wife at their wedding. Cy manages to carry on anyway, doing his job and existing robotically but not really living.

Then two apparent suicides at the General Medical School (where his wife worked and now resides) catch his interest. Something odd is going on at the school - and not just there - that may have something to do with the case Jon Sciler, his predecessor, vanished whilst investigating (as seen in Reckless Sleep).

I enjoyed Dark Heavens significantly more than Reckless Sleep. As mentioned in my review of the latter book, Levy writes well: his style is clear and accessible, as well as highly visual, and this has improved even further in Dark Heavens. He also has a fertile imagination where small details and subplots are concerned. But the main improvement is that the plot itself is significantly more interesting and engrossing. Things actually happen. Interesting things.

Levy's still essentially concerned with the nature of reality, but we spend a lot more time in reality this time around, which, coupled with the concrete setting amidst the streets of dying London, grounds the reader more effectively and enables a more solid interrogation of 'reality'.

Even though this badly damaged future world is weirdly Disney-fied by hologram and telepresence technology, this very same Disney-fication paradoxically helps ground us in the reality proper of the book. Things like the Holohead (a virtual TV presenter) are so rendered in such glaring neon that their counterfeit nature is immediately obvious when compared to the dark streets and abandoned buildings. It's a cocktail of decay and magic that, like oil and water, doesn't usually mix, however it gives Levy's London - and the other worlds that bracket it - the disconcerting hallucinogenic edge needed for us to believe in it.

Like Reckless Sleep this isn't a happy book, but even with a protagonist as downtrodden as Auger it still manages to be less frustratingly grim than that book, which is a relief. Dark Heavens is undoubtedly quite a bit longer than it needs to be - the ratio of story to plot is rather skewed - and like a bad disaster movie the end of the world, though close, is never quite nigh (setting a third book in this world would definitely be stretching things too far).

Those complaints aside, Dark Heavens isn't bad and bodes well for Levy's development as a writer. However, perhaps next time he should write something if not less doom-laden (I don't mind doom-laden in the least) then at least different? With two large novels about the same doomed world under his belt maybe it's time to change the trousers?

Buy it from Amazon.co.uk