In Gray’s sci-fi/fantasy debut, the highly stratified society of Overtone finds itself torn apart in a fight to channel the Ohm, a ubiquitous but tightly controlled energy source akin to electricity.
Like most young men, Flick dreams of being a Shaper, someone who can literally create new worlds by adeptly joining and mixing musical sounds. To see if he has this ability, he visits the Resident, the Shaper designator, who lives in the center of Overtone. The Resident says nothing significant at their first meeting, yet Flick comes to a much fuller understanding of the scope of his powers when an explosion upsets the flow of Ohm to the grid, unleashing tensions between the privileged people of the Inner Rings and the hardworking citizens of the Outer Rings. Flick begins a wildly imaginative journey that takes him through fights against far more powerful, embittered foes while exposing him to the heartbreak of hero worship and love from afar. Partly a coming-of-age story, partly a detailed exploration of the physics of music and sound waves, Gray’s novel features marvelous passages of sci-fi flight: “[Flick] examined the various shapes and sizes of the sound waves, the way the bold bass throes bounded forward like lumbering whales, or the way the high pitched screams frizzed up like dust motes on a kitchen floor. The tunnel of light and sound throbbed and shifted and echoed.” While the conceit of a world that operates entirely on sound waves and bootleg mixes wears slightly thin over the course of a full-length novel, the enthusiasm with which Gray writes often makes up for the occasionally heavy-handed allusions to a society engaged in class war. Flick’s culture shock and growing awareness of the disparities inherent in a tightly regulated caste system are interspersed with oversize, playful creatures that are half-organic, half-subwoofer. The novel suffers a bit from its worldbuilding; every one of the hero’s actions is colored with outré magnitude. Regardless, Gray’s ability to create a richly imagined universe will delight genre enthusiasts, and his skill bodes well for future efforts.
A visually powerful, angst-ridden and sometimes funny story set in a world of killer DJs and smuggled soul music.