This novel was written to pull together a lot of the ideas I’d been mulling on for years beforehand – pretty much from 1980 onwards. It draws on a lot of diverse areas of human interaction with machines, virtual and physical. I was fascinated by the developments and visions of the early 1990s and their strange mixture of horror at the corporatisation of the world combined with their love of technology and its possibilities. Although reading Gibson, Dick and Banks had influenced the types of visions I’d got from SF before that, I really wanted to move to this area from a deeper human standpoint of family and relationships.
Here is the first edition cover, which I loved. It’s a reworking of Tutankhamun’s death mask – an image which used to hang in my study at the time of writing. The artwork is by Steve Stone.
Here are some reviews that people gave it when it first came out which are very kind ways of describing what goes on inside the covers –
What They Said
“In a month where Sadie Plant capitalises on her position as Britain’s premier psycho-cyberfeminist, it’s brilliant to see some incredible futurism from one of the many younger women writing novels in the wake of her example. Much pushing of cyberculture as an intrinsically female force for change spearheads the acceptance of grrrlstyle SF off the web and at street level;Robson’s quids in being among the first. Historically, cool male writers like Banks and Neal Stephenson have long relied on sassy heroines to distinguish themselves from spods who spunk-pen idealised babes; Robson’s Anjuli O’Connell is a self-confessed know-it-all fat slob whose photographic memory and computer skills make her the perfect candidate to interface with a self-regenerating computer who wants to become a sentient being. With rights. Rather than concentrate on the nuts, bolts and Airfix of living off-planet, Robson’s characters horad fresh basil and deconstruct personal relationships amidst macrocosmic and deeply philosophical goings-on. Completely recommended.” I-D magazine, September 1999
“This sophisticated debut novel explores a Bladerunneresque set of characters grappling with notions of cyberspace, artificial intelligence and a computer’s mind. Very end of the millennium…” Marie-Claire magazine, September 1999
“This first novel by a young British author offers an enjoyably different, even subversive, slant on AIs and cyberspace. Insecure and overweight heroine Anjuli O’Connell is a flawed genius whose photographic memory makes her worry about how human she is. Almost her best friend, after all, is the quirky corporate AI named 901–successor to past versions of 900, the mysteriously disaster-prone 899, etc. A human friend dies to upload his mind into cyberspace, seeking that SF dream of bodiless immortality … which doesn’t work as expected. Another pal interfaces with terrifying biomechanoid weapons- suits that pull their wearer into mental symbiosis, a new “I” continuous with the old but different: “Where does life end and the machine begin?” Meanwhile 901’s grasping multinational owners OptiNet, and the Machine-Greens who preach AI liberation, seem equally murderous. As 901’s humanity or otherwise becomes a case for the Strasbourg Court, expert witness Anjuli is targeted by assassins and entangled in the hunt for a Hitchcockian McGuffin known as the Source, perhaps literally the secret of life. This requires a hair-raising solo commando assault, in that biomech suit, on a cult church’s heavily fortified abbey bunker. Robson’s plot zigzags in unexpected directions, especially with revelations about the Source; there’s tragedy and trauma, but happy surprises too. An impressive SF debut.” Dave Langford, amazon.co.uk
“With so many tired concepts struggling fitfully on in genre writing today, it’s really refreshing to encounter something new. And that’s unquestionably what we get in Justina Robson’s Silver Screen, an invigorating narrative combining artificial intelligence and a heroine who has to learn survival skills – quickly. The writing is punchy but with a satisfying literary sheen, and the concept, as I said, is brand new. Let’s hope that this one gets the notice it deserves.” ‘Genre Hotline’ by Barry Forshaw (September 1999)