Map of Blue Book Balloon

24 September 2022

#Review - Full Immersion by Gemma Amor

Full Immersion
Gemma Amor
Angry Robot, 13 September 2022
Available as: PB, 400pp, e, audio
Source: Advance e-copy
ISBN(PB): 9780857669810

I'm grateful to the publishers for an advance e-copy of Full Immersion via Netgalley to consider for review.


Reading Full Immersion was a blast, in two senses. First, it's a gripping, compulsive, skin-crawling SF-horror, the like of which I have rarely seen - so reading it was superb fun. But in another sense of the word, "fun" is hardly the word. Experiencing Full Immersion was like having a shockwave hit me. It felt like being across the road from a collapsing building - except that the immersion lasted most of the book. I don't think I have ever read a story with a more apt title.

The impact of Full Immersion comes from a number of factors, only some of which I can pin down. There's the claustrophobic atmosphere. The story largely takes place in just two rooms, a control room and a treatment room where a woman called Magpie is confined, trussed up in wires, tubes and a harness - while in a full VR simulated environment designed to tease out the motivations for her catastrophic mental health crisis. While in the simulation, Magpie can roam free through endless created vistas, though in reality, she's closely confined.

There is the small cast; the patient, Magpie; a nurse; couple of techs - Evans, and the Boss; a "psych"... and a monster. Building on this sense of enclosure and isolation I might have a stab at defining this book in terms of the Gothic, if it wasn't a waste of time for such a genuinely different story - Full Immersion in a genre in itself - but really, those are relatively minor factors in the book's impact.

More, there is a sense in reading the story of being washed in a tide of horror, despair and loss - all bound up with how Amor takes Magpie's crisis as the central ground, the keystone of the arch, of this novel. Magpie has been through some truly traumatic events - the book concerns themes of suicide, harm to a child, birth (a graphic scene, as birth is!) and post-natal depression. She is still going through traumatic events - though now in that basement, after she reached out in desperation for the experimental "treatment" offered there. 

Which isn't to say she's altogether on board with the idea, as you'll see. As Full Immersion blends reality, obsession, guilt, and a truly insidious foe, the story alternates between Evans and his Boss - she definitely has her own purposes here - and Magpie desperately trying to get her shit together to meet the challenge of this new and unsettling environment. It's a painful read, in many respects, and may be too strong - or raise too many ghosts - for some. But it's written with a great sense of empathy and of compassion, opening up aspects of life which many of us (perhaps thankfully) are unaware of. 

It's also a book that refuses to deal in easy answers. Yes, there is progress here - bought with much pain. But Amor refuses to allow her characters a happy-ever-after ending. All that pain, anguish and guilt won't just go away, she seems to be saying. It's out there. You may meet it. You need to be ready, but you can't be.

All in all, a stunning book, definitely one of my favourites this year so far.

For more information about Full Immersion, see the Angry Robot website here

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