The high-concept plot at the centre of Laura Lam’s third novel, False Hearts, feels slightly familiar: a good person must risk her life by taking the place of her conjoined twin, who has got into a huge amount of trouble. Thankfully, Lam’s just getting started, offering the reader a rich and entertaining sci-fi tale that is brimming with ideas.
The good twin is Taema, who was forcibly surgically separated from her sister Tila after they escaped from a notorious cult located off the coast of San Francisco. Since they separated, Tila has been a bit wilder, but murder seems out of character for her.
It turns out Tila was tangled up with gangsters channelling in a dangerous narcotic used to control lucid dreaming, and Taema must go undercover as her sister to clear her name.
Lam is too sensitive a writer to allow the twin business to drift into Van Damme territory, instead using the forced identity shift to explore the separate personalities of the two leads. Meanwhile, she paints a vivid picture of future San Francisco, as citizens channel their violent impulses into their dreams and take their creature comforts drained of anything bad.
For the most part, Taema is an interesting and engaging protagonist, although Lam does spend too much time reiterating her fears and concerns, and her relationship with her undercover partner feels a little easy. Tila gets to deliver the twins’ history at the Hearth, a hippie colony gone bad with inbreeding and fear under its dictatorial ‘maternal’ leader, and her strong will contrasts a little too clearly with Taema’s nerves as they swap narration back and forth.
However, the plotting is strong and the world is rich enough that minor quibbles can be put to one side. This is a strong sci-fi thriller from Lam, and well worth exploring.