Thomas A. Day
TOR, May 2009
There is much to like in this tale and a bit to not like.
It begins in the near future though the political divisions that exist have evolved from where we stand today. The powers-that-are are divided into camps that ring with familiarity as well as startling change. For example, California has seceded from the United States which may not be such a bad thing.
The major players are all either veterans of the U.S. Army Engineering Corps – and that designation has also evolved so that what we are talking about is not a civil engineering organization but an electrical engineering outfit with all that entails, e.g., hardware and software – or they are folk affected by operations conducted by that outfit.
There are a dozen or so major players but the crucial ones are all serving in the same unit at the time the story opens and the narrator discovers an advanced technology that he kills for. This technology, a quantum-energy battery, will take some folk to the stars, enable those who stay behind to continue their squabbling over available resources, and force a new mindset on both emigrants and stay-behinds.
To get from point a to point b, the narrator must determine how his roots in impoverished Puerto Rico affect his responses to partners who are obsessive in their particular expertise:
- The sociopath who embodies militarism
- The software designer who embodies pure logic
- The software designer seeking a new Eden
- The survivor who becomes the ultimate warrior
- The survivor who seems content in his innocence
- The philosopher who tries to balance engineering with ethics
Some die living out their compulsions; some survive the crisis in the new star system where the narrator discovers we are our own worst enemy; some journey on to Eden.
Lovers of political/military sf will find more than enough to cherish in the tale with the Chinese, the Europeans, and the Americans all scrambling for control. Lovers of manifest destiny will find more than enough justification as the emigrants deal with new environments, and new technological challenges to struggle through to a stable existence on the planets in the new star system. Lovers of cautionary tales will find more than enough sober speculation, e.g., the difference between a man and a machine, to content themselves. Lovers of apocalyptic tales will find enough, particularly in the not-so-grand finale, to satisfy their pessimism. Those who want their tales to contain some semblance of verisimilitude will be appreciative and disappointed. There are a few holes in the story logic that tend to nag at the reader’s consciousness.
To fully appreciate the story, you must tolerate characters who refuse to grow from beginning to end, who never learn from experience, who persist in their tunnel-visioned approach to life. You must cheer for those like the narrator who seem to have some modicum of rationality though their behavior will often tempt you to throw the book away in despair.
I stopped reading for a few days because the attention to politics was driving me crazy. When I came back to it, I discovered I had stopped just short of the saving plot line that made the rest of the book as enjoyable as the opening had been.
In the end, a heroine’s filling in her background <the foreshadowing is heavy-handed enough to make this no surprise> as well her own epiphany <and this is a surprise> pulls the story back into what it was meant to be. In the end, despite its flaws, I recommend this one. The story makes sense and it gave me much to think about with regard to that question asked; what is the difference between a man and machine?
© 2009 Dan Bieger