Monday, 4 August 2008

‘Implied Spaces’ - Walter Jon Williams (Nightshade Books)


‘Hard sci-fi’ and I aren’t the best of bedfellows. I have trouble following the theory and end up getting distracted very easily by pretty flashing things, ‘hard sci-fi’ just ends up getting exasperated when realises that it will never be able to dumb down enough to make any sense to me. We’ve pretty much agreed to be civil if we meet up but generally try to avoid each other where possible.
But what about ‘hard sci-fi’ where the hero is a swordsman with a talking cat for a companion? This sounds more like my kind of thing… It’s got zombies and pod-people too? I’m in!

‘Implied Spaces’ takes place in a future where the ‘Big Belch’ has rendered Earth uninhabitable. Humanity now resides in a series of pocket universes created by AIs and our hero, Aristide, is a scholar of the ‘implied spaces’ (accidents of architecture) that lie within. Aristide’s studies uncover evidence that a madman wants to take humanity in a new direction and he’s not afraid to use pod-people and zombies to achieve his aims.
It’s all out war, with Artificial Intelligences firing pocket universes at each other (doesn’t get much more hardcore than that), but it’s the underlying intrigue that’s where it’s at. Is your friend still an ally or something else entirely? The fate of the universe rides on the answer to questions like these…

‘Implied Spaces’ is only two hundred and sixty three pages long so fits nicely into the ‘nice short read for the commute category’ that I’m into right now. Appearances can be deceptive though as there is far more to this book than its page count would suggest. Williams tackles a number of themes in ‘Implied Spaces’ that were effective, in my reading, to a greater or lesser extent.

The underlying sciences around the implied spaces, in each pocket universe, made sense although don’t ask me to explain it! I also liked the way that this theory is tied into the villain’s scheming. Without giving too much away, Williams is obviously into ‘big ideas’ and they don’t come too much bigger than what the reader encounters. Where things started to go a little awry, for me, though was when he applied science to some of the other events taking place in the story. If you’re into this sort of thing (or you know your science) then I’m sure you’ll have no problem understanding some of the technical concepts. For me however it was very much a case of, “Blah, blah, blah, blah… and then the space station blew up.” It’s no-one’s fault but there were some pretty cool pyrotechnics where the affect was spoilt by my ‘not getting’ what was going on. This is a real blind spot for me and I may either have to go and stand in the ‘stupid corner’ or go back to school and start again… :o)

Luckily for me ‘Implied Spaces’ redeems itself in other ways, not least in the way that the story itself is told. Pacing is a little suspect when certain things need to be explained, ‘Implied Spaces’ is one of those novels that needs ‘info-dumps’ but would have been a better read with a few less of them (especially in such a short book). These moments aside though, ‘Implied Spaces’ is a fast paced read with plenty of intrigue, espionage and the aforementioned pyrotechnic set pieces (with ’28 Days Later’ style zombies!) There’s plenty going on for fans of both space opera and hard sci-fi, I’m in the ‘space opera camp’ and I certainly wasn’t disappointed with what was on offer.

In a setting where mankind lives in dozens of pocket universes, one of the obvious tasks facing Williams is to convey the variety of worlds and life that is out here. He achieves this (rather cleverly I thought) through a ‘less is more’ approach of only concentrating on three worlds but making them extremely different from each other. The inhabitants also differ from world to world with Midgarth housing trolls (amongst other things), aquatically enhanced humans living on the water world of Hawaiki and just about everything living in Myriad City (on the world of Topaz). Unfortunately there just isn’t enough room in the book to fully explore these worlds which was something that I personally wanted to see more of. Where did the ‘Control – Alt – Delete War’ get its name from? And why is there more than one New Jerusalem? This was stuff that I wanted to know (amongst other things) but I guess there’s only so much that you can fit into one book…

What you do get though is a sometimes amusing look at what it means to be human in this world of the far future. The lesson seems to be that human fallibility will render all technological advances pointless. What’s the point of being able to back your personality up, and cheat death, if you don’t adjust the settings so that you are able to remember everything that happened prior to your death? This is especially true when you’ve just discovered an enemy plot just before your death! Plot twists like this can be really infuriating but actually had me engaging with the characters even more as I knew what was really going on and ended up rooting for them.
On the slightly more poignant side the resurrection issue is explored in the affect that it can have on human relationships. In particular, how many times can a relationship survive one partner having to kill the other? It’s wartime and these things happen…
One negative aspect to the whole immortality concept, however, is that some of the urgency does disappear from the story when you realise that all the cliff-hanger moments aren’t really cliff-hangers at all, how can they be when a person can be bought back from the dead to try again?

My technical ‘blind spot’ aside, ‘Implied Spaces’ is a fast and fun read that should give people a lot to chew over. Its big problem is that it feels like it’s trying to fit too much into too small a space and things can fall between the gaps. Maybe a couple of hundred more pages would sort this out but it’s still worth a look.

Eight and a Quarter out of Ten

4 comments:

Mark Chitty said...

Nice review - definately sounds like one to add to the list!

Chris, The Book Swede said...

Got this one, too -- you've just moved it into the "taking it on holiday" pile! :D Nice review. I'm into shorter reads at the moment, too.

~Chris
The Book Swede

Graeme Flory said...

Chris - Are you going on holiday? I wish I was...

Chris, The Book Swede said...

Yeah :) For the first time in ages! :D I didn't even really have to organise it at all, as well -- travel agent friends did. Consequently, we're going somewhere I know nothing about! :O