Radio Freefall

Reviewer: Jake Beal

Author: Matthew Jarpe

Published: 2007

Reviewed: 2007-10-07

Publisher: Tor

Man, this book is exactly what I've been needing, an antidote to every
crappy new book I've read in the last year. Mr. Jarpe is actually a
local author, and I was introduced to "Radio Freefall" when he came by
the MITSFS to do a reading for us. The library was packed, the
audience was spell-bound, he kept going for a while, and was rewarded
with wild applause. Within minutes the book was on the new book
shelf, then off again as I obtained special permission to check it out
for review.

I tell you all this so you will understand how quickly and thoroughly
this book can suck you in. "Radio Freefall" is fast and many-threaded
in a way that reminds me of William Gibson's early work, with all of
the characters following their own agendas, driven by motivations we
don't need to have explained to understand (though by the end
everything important is explained, leaving aside only a few
world-shattering events which frame the story and are discussed
extensively off-screen: the details just don't matter to the story).
Unlike Gibson, however, Mr. Jarpe understands that a story must have
arc, and that it can come to a satisfying conclusion without closing
out possibilities for the future.

Another listener at the reading compared the story to Spinrad's
"Little Heroes," which is understandable, given that "Radio Freefall"
also involves a band that may change the world. And music is woven
all through the story, not just music, but musicians and questions
about the meaning of music and the ethics of music. Unlike Spinrad,
however, Mr. Jarpe does not appear to be making a Point, and the music
is allowed to find its place in the story, rather than wrapping the
story around itself.

Mr. Jarpe, in fact, has two rare and vital talents: a light touch and
a truly evil sense of humor. From between the cracks of the story
drift out little aside comments that carry within them entire
independent stories, begging the reader to imagine them. Family
counseling for an AI and its creator. The ideal strategy for using
online dating sites. What to do when your drummer is stuck in prison.
The similarities between CEOs and orcas. I revel in it, because he
has invited me into his world without handcuffing me to his own view.

At its heart, "Radio Freefall" is two things: an extrapolation of the
world as it is, encompassing both our hopes and fears, and a story
about the hard road to responsibility. Incredibly, this is also
Mr. Jarpe's first novel. I hope he's writing another.