Science fiction and fantasy                                            



Transmission

by John Meaney

cover  

 
I would normally start this review with a little summary of Transmission's plot, to give you a taste of the kind of book we're dealing with. However the second book in the Ragnarok trilogy is particularly hard to pin down. To me, Ragnarok has connotations of hairy Norse warriors wielding swords and axes, carousing in mead halls, and invoking Odin and Thor. To be fair, there's some of that, more or less. But the story starts in 2603 AD, in a high-tech city built in a different dimension to our own, known as mu-space. Roger is a black-eyed pilot born with the ability to take a ship through this dimension, and to see things ordinary humans can't. His homeworld Fulgor has been taken over by the Anomaly, a planet-changing entity that has left it a hell world where no ordinary human can survive.

But just as we're getting used to Roger's environment and all its shiny technologies the plot goes back to Earth in 1941, and the dangerous lives of spies in Tokyo in the middle of the war. A certain Lt. Kanazawa witnesses events that make him question the Japanese approach to the war and to foreigners. This is probably a tribute to the 10th Dan black belt Sensei Hirokazu Kanazawa. However the main wartime action centres around Gavriela, a codebreaker working at Bletchley Park.

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

Book Details

Year: 2012

Categories: Books

  Science fiction
 
  Highbrow

  Cheerful

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Review © Ros Jackson

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