Solaris, 2012, 414 p. (Published in the US and Canada as Harmony.)
In the city called Laverne humans are marginalised, subjected to the rule of aliens and their various underlings – chlicks, watchers, headclouds (with their assorted commensals,) grunts and slaves. Movement is restricted by a series of pass controls which can only be negotiated by having identifiers called pids in the bloodstream recognised and verified. Over Laverne hangs a skystation, a kind of spaceport controlled by a starsinger. These beings can manipulate reality (creating by singing or destroying by unsinging) and act as protectors of their cities.
Dodge is a member of the human clan Virtue. He has expertise in fooling the pass system with fake pids and chances upon Hope, a young girl who has no pids, using his ability to help to avoid her being detained at a checkpoint. Hope becomes central to the story’s resolution (rendering the programmatic nature of her name a touch heavy-handed.)
The narration is mainly first person from Dodge’s viewpoint but there are sections where he narrates other characters’ experiences in the third person. One of these is Hope, who has come to Laverne after her city Angiere was destroyed. Other escapees from Angiere warn that competing factions among the aliens mean that Laverne is unsafe and urge travelling on to the semi-mythical city of Harmony. Life in Laverne is shown in detail and depicted very well, the characters and their motivations entirely believable.
After the area of Laverne where Dodge lived has been unsung a small group of humans decides to move out of Laverne before the whole city is destroyed. They set off to try to find Harmony. The travelogue in this second section of the novel has moments which are reminiscent of a Wyndhamesque disaster story but in the end alt.human is not like that at all. For one thing it has a resolution.
The first part of the novel, set mostly in Laverne, the bulk of the book, feels as if Brooke had invested his heart and soul in it, it has characters who seem real and a just about believable setting. The two subsequent sections felt less convincing, but characterisation and its development wasn’t lacking.