The Roman Catholic Church is very much alive and well in the 26th Century of S. Andrew Swann’s Prophets, the first book of the Apotheosis trilogy. The thrust of the plot concerns the race to a planet near the star Xi Virginis to find a human colony long thought to be lost and the strange object that falls to the planet alerting the Caliphate and the powerful Roman Catholic Church to its existence.
In one respect, Prophets works very well as a heist novel. A misfit crew is formed in order to investigate the happenings at the planet Xi Virginis consisting of a few humans and a morey. A morey is essentially a half-human half animal and in the case of the morey in this novel, Nickolai Rajasthan is a descendant of a genetically engineered tiger with a royal heritage. Rounding out the crew are a Roman Catholic Priest and Space Marine veteran; a human mercenary pilot; a human mercenary; and a genetically engineered human mercenary. Of course, this mission, and the crew on this mission are not quite what they seem. Hidden agendas, shady identities, conspiracies and potential uplifted intelligence run throughout the background of the novel, giving the plot both support and weight.
Swann throws quite a few SF tropes into this novel – for starters, the novel is a Space Opera set 500 years into the future. You’ve also got genetically engineered humans and demi-humans, high-speed space travel, alien super-intelligences, and artificial intelligences. What’s more impressive is that he makes it work very well, with each element serving the next and the ones before it in a smooth and complimentary fashion.
The far future setting is well-thought out and ingeniously crafted. The sense of depth to the universe and some of the characters (particularly Nickolai and Tjaele Mosasa) further lends weight to the rich history of which Prophets shows just a snapshot. Swann could have easily overloaded the reader with infodump after infodump about his future history. As I’ve said about other writers who do what Swann did here, he filters in the details in a very balanced manner through his character’s conversations and internal thoughts.
Science and Religion seemed to have evolved side-by-side, hand-in-hand even in Swann’s future. Some of the hinted-at scheming of the Roman Catholic Church of the future don’t seem entirely far-fetched given some of the suspect dealings of organized religion today. While Science and Religion may be strange bedfellows considering the Vatican took only about 350 years to apologize for how Galileo was treated with his crazy theories about the Earth revolving around the Sun, Swann posits a very plausible commingling of these two frames for understanding the world.
Though I haven’t read any previous novels by Mr. Swann, I’ve gathered that this trilogy connects two of his popular earlier series – The Hostile Takeover Trilogy and The Moreau series. Swann manages to make this book very inviting to new readers and if anything, teases to those same new readers (such as myself) with both good writing and interesting enough future milieu to encourage readers to check out those older trilogies.
Prophets is a rewarding and enjoyable novel, a solid entry in the Space Opera subgenre with flavors of heist thrown into the mix. Now I’ve got to get to those two trilogies that predate this one.
© 2009 Rob H. Bedford