I have to say that the main character in Goodbye, Padania, Daria Rigoletti, is an engaging character. I don't think she means to be – she just carries on quietly and anonymously with killing people, but we naturally want to know how a woman came to fill such a role, and we are drawn to her when human feeling starts to fill her empty heart and she tries to find something less ruthless to do to make a living. As the quality of mercy flows back into her, we can feel empathy for her, and sympathy with her attempts to stop trading in violence in a world in which it is a major currency.
The world in question is a hypothetical future independent state called Padania, in present-day north Italy. Upon independence, it seems to have engaged in an orgy of racist violence, which has made it a pariah state. Without immigrant labour, the economy has collapsed, and the regime has become more and more totalitarian, with a militia of murderous thugs, an electrified wall to keep people in, and a forced diet of TV soaps and beauty contests to keep them sedated, until an old spirit of resistance re-awakens.
I have a feeling that the author is more interested in the political story than the personal one, but it is the evolving personality of Daria that fascinated me.
Defects are that is a bit disjointed, and that the minor characters are not developed. Perhaps the author will return to Padania and do just that. I think he has found a rich vein to mine here.
The author gives us an insight into what can happen when states assume they have the power of life or death over their citizens - and other people's. We know that hit squads can act with impunity in places like Iran, Italy and Greece, but something so awful couldn't really happen in England. Could it? The anti-hero, Franco Tira, is a laconic, sardonic old bastard. I hope he will survive long enough in that hospice to tell us more of his nasty but fascinating misadventures.
In this sequel to “Linehan’s Trip”, author Murphy portrays his main man as trying to become good after a lifetime of corruption. Linehan tries, but his job, as a troubleshooter for a world sports body, the setting, a near-future China, and even his very own girlfriend back home, do not make it easy for him, constantly strewing temptation in his way and threatening to stymie his mission to save a group of footballers from a firing squad. After “Linehan’s Trip”, I’m glad to see Murphy finding a lighter touch, and bringing out the comic side of his creation, too.
"Breakaway" is a good, short taster for Murphy's other "dark future" writings. You don't need to know about Italian politics to understand that a state based on racism and xenophobia is going to be a disaster. Murphy's hypothetical "Padania", a breakaway state located in today's northern Italy, is precisely that. As it descends into deadly chaos, the narrator, a foreigner caught up in the maelstrom, accepts help from the Calabrian mafia to get the children of his best friends out and away to safety. Fortunately, the racists are on the decline in Italy at the moment, but they are on the rise in Greece and Eastern Europe, so a situation like the one shown here could be coming to a country near you.
In a world in which food choices are the new religion, Murphy shows that tradition and innovation still pit individuals and groups against each other to deadly effect. The main character, Dougal, is a true believer who overcomes his doubts to defend orthodoxy, with the help of technologically enhanced direct democracy. Fortunately, Murphy has a light touch, and this story offers entertainment as well as, er, food for thought.
Teresa Tait’s brief story works on several levels: as a standard action story, as a piece of lesbian erotica, as a look into a future China, and as a personal account of a tormented woman trying to prove she can still feel human emotions. It is set in a Chinese equivalent of the London Eye, where Ysis, the lady in question, has arranged a tryst with a woman she has selected from a dating site. The date turns out to be a lot more dangerous than Ysis has anticipated, but she survives and gets what she had wanted. I think it’s a small gem, but avoid it if you are offended by sexually explicit language. If you are not, it is well worth your time.
The Church is running England again, but this time not with a rod of iron. Indeed, all faiths are tolerated; the only rule is that you must have one. In Kent, a young man converts to the one true faith (though we are not told which one that is) and sets out to become a martyr for it in order to wake people out of their somnolence. He also expects to be rewarded with ever-willing virgins in the after-life. His antagonist, a world-weary ecclesiastical cop, tries to stop the self-sacrifice through the teenager’s other love, his soccer team, known as the Angels, which is doing unusually well now that the Church runs the nation’s sport, too. This is satire, not horror, and the ending is soft. The main character, Lee Soylent, could do with further development, and I hope Murphy will provide this before his imagined future comes to pass.