Science fiction and fantasy
by John Meaney
Then we're taken back to 777, when the berserker Ulfr is on the hunt for his twisted nemesis, a one-eyed sorcerer who is followed around by ravens. Ulfr is after revenge for the man's murders, but his quarry is proving very slippery. There are frequent battles, and troll-like creatures, and twisting magic, so it's very Viking and manly in tone.
Yet just as we're getting the hang of that the narrative moves forward a few thousand years, to 2147, and then to 5563 and some bizarre silver-skinned beings on another planet who have to stay out of the burning sun on pain of death. These silver-skins are seeking some kind of resonance, but what that has to do with the rest of the story isn't clear. There are at least seven different threads in this novel, each of them separated by vast differences in time and location. For a long time the stories don't seem to be connected at all, and it's only later in the book that common links emerge. But it's very subtle to begin with, a word here or an image there. I was unsure whose story this was, and all the different strands and characters make it harder to stay engaged because once I've come to like one character they're off the scene for several chapters and it's not always clear that they'll be back.
One of the main crises is the pursuit of Helsen in 2603. She's a shadowy figure involved in spreading the Anomaly on Fulgor and bringing down that world. Roger is desperate to stop her and have his revenge, but in order to evade capture she uses technology so advanced that it might as well be magic. The far future technology is dazzling: twisting vortices that take people around the world instantly, flexible flowmetal furniture that can be summoned with gestures, floating cities, and so on. Real physics and science fantasy technobabble meet up in enjoyable flights of fancy. These are futures when people are barely constrained by physical necessities, and they live like gods. Food just arrives, city transport is miraculous, the environment moulds itself to your needs and everything stays clean. All of this leaves people with more time to fight and scheme against each other.
It makes for a lot of action, but that's not all there is to this book. Transmission is brimming with ideas on topics as diverse as trance states, the psychology of word use, martial arts, how aliens might communicate with each other, and Norse myth. The historical sections are full of satisfying nuggets of detail that enrich the story. It's thoroughly well researched.
However this is quite a masculine piece of writing, in the sense that it revels in shiny science and clever objects, and it downplays emotions and personal interactions. When there's sex it's fast and to the point, and not in the slightest bit romanticised. The themes in the timelines do start to come together by the end, although there's a sense that we'll have to wait for book three for a more complete explanation of what's going on. Yet whilst there's lots to chew on mentally, this novel is more impersonal than I would have preferred because of the large number of different characters it features.
2nd January 2012
If you like this, try:The Collapsium by Wil McCarthy
The sun is encircled by a device made of matter created from miniature black holes. What could possibly go wrong?
House Of Suns by Alastair Reynolds
Millions of years into the future, the fate of the galaxy may depend on the lost memories of a damaged robot.
Add your thoughtsAll comments are pre-moderated. Please do not post spoilers or abusive language.