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on 31 March 2009
Chris Beckett's intelligent second novel is concerned with borders and transgressions. The novel's narrator, Charles Bowen, is an immigration officer, but the migrants he pursues are `shifters', able to move between infinite universes by means of the drug `slip'. Then shifters begin to murder in the name of the Norse gods, taking slip to evade the consequences of their actions.

The novel's setting is an Earth similar to our own but with certain significant differences, not least the `inclusion zones' into which the British underclass has been segregated, paid welfare money but disenfranchised - a clever idea which lets the novel explore the enduring class boundaries of contemporary Britain. Charles's hesitancy in his relationship with girlfriend Jaz poignantly illustrates the psychological boundaries that people erect in self-protection. A thoughtful and inventive novel.
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VINE VOICEon 31 January 2009
In his second novel, 'Marcher', Chris Beckett returns to some of the themes and characters of his earlier short stories. The novel is set in a near future world in which members of the underclass are forced to live in special `inclusion zones'. Although they receive welfare benefits they are disenfranchised and in some cases prohibited from leaving their home estates. This characteristic of the Marcher universe forces us to examine the comparable (if less regimented) class dynamics of our own society. (I was reminded of the rather similar near future world of John Christopher's underrated 'The Guardians'.)

Marcher's narrator, Charles, is an immigration officer who is responsible for dealing with `shifters', people who use an illegal drug known as `slip' to move from one universe to another. Those who possess the drug are able to commit terrible crimes knowing that they can easily escape to another world and completely escape punishment. Many shifters worship the Norse gods, apparently because they have been influenced by a remote alternate universe in which Christianity never took hold in Britain.

Beckett addresses large questions and problems in this novel. Charles is forced to realize that if he found what he longed for he still would be no happier and must decide whether it is weaker to run away from his responsibilities or remain where he is, avoiding the risks which might transform his life.

Beckett's emphasis on mirrors, on doubles, on the permeable boundaries between both worlds and people, and his use of a rather cool and detached outsider figure as a narrator put me in mind of several of Christopher Priest's novels, in particular 'The Glamour' and 'The Extremes'. Thoroughly recommended.
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on 9 July 2011
Much of modern SF, despite it's Galaxy spanning outlook, futuristic technology, big bangs and 'raygoons' is pretty toneless, grey and single-voiced as far as characterisation goes. I'd just read a stretch of books where, despite it's Galaxy spanning etc., it was just one voice and one character - undifferentiated miasma. Chris Beckett rains on that parade of pap and leaves a clear, sparkling fresh outlook. Discrete and complex characters inhabit a detailed believable world which has a disconcerting familiarity. The story and set up is reminiscent of the High 'C's of classic SF - Cowper, Clarke, Cooper, Coney, Compton, and dare one say it, of Big John Brunner - but it is a modern world coloured richly by the writer's background.
HOWEVER the whole experience is destroyed by the lack of text editing - sentences nonsense ; guess the 'world' competitions; is that man extra letter; is hat a letter short? I gave up recording the copy blunders after about a hundred pages. HOW did this get to press? It's a shame.
Although it is an interesting read with some unique, funny and intense moments I recommend you wait to see if it is ever published again and the publisher puts "Special corrected proof edition" on the cover.
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on 6 December 2014
I do love it, with a few reservations. I love Chris Beckett's writing, his original mind, his ability to write such fluent and believable dialogue and to write science fiction that is also incisive and damning social commentary on the way we organise society today (even though in the universe mainly being written about it was organised in some fundamentally different ways). I thoroughly enjoyed this book, but the ending didn't quite hang together for me. I wonder if in another universe, if this novel hadn't been pulled together from 6 separate Chris Beckett short stories but written from scratch, whether it would have been ultimately more rounded, more satisfying as a story. Nevertheless, for me, it still deserves 5 stars!
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on 23 June 2015
This book takes the current world, almost as we know it and changes one thing - that a drug can allow people to move between different versions of the multi-verse. Aside from this it has interesting characters and takes a nice satirical swipe bob
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on 10 October 2014
Enjoyable read, people wrote they felt it was a short story padded to make a novel, really didn't have that experience myself.
The ending was very open ended, but it is about branching universes so all endings are possible.
Enjoying this author, liked the last book too.
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on 2 February 2014
I love his books
Have read them all
This is poorly edited and 4 times too long - i cannot recommend except in the manner that somone might buy early demo tapes
Still, it is Beckett and has moments of cleverness and social insight
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on 6 March 2011
Science fiction is a great medium for exploring social issues and Marcher is an excellent example of this. The story draws on the `many worlds' theory (in which reality is composed of an infinite number of alternative worlds created by different choices) and revolves around attempts to stop people crossing between realities using a strange drug known as `slip'. This is interesting in itself, but there's a lot more to the novel.

Perhaps more fascinating is the setting - an England in which those who are on the margins of society are physically marginalised in euphemistically named `social inclusion zones' where their interests are guarded by armies of social workers and bureaucrats. Beckett is himself a social worker who now lectures in that field and has written several textbooks on the subject. This gives the social aspect of Marcher authenticity and the insight of one who knows the territory very well. Beckett's portrayal of this hyped up welfare state is less than flattering, and while it is more extreme than the forms of welfare prevalent in western societies today, there are also significant parallels.

Also fascinating is the psychological portrait of the novel's protagonist - an immigration officer who specialises in apprehending the illegal reality jumpers, known as `shifters'.

Together, the science fictional, social and psychological elements of Marcher form a thought-provoking novel that should be enjoyed by anyone who appreciates intelligent SF.
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on 14 September 2015
Interesting concept, well thought through. Writing is clean and keeps you engaged. The ending is oblique rather like the story. So many possibilities!
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on 29 December 2014
Thought it would be better, not a great end felt as/ if it was just beginning when it ended...please tell me there is a sequel
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