(2022) Nadia Afifi, Flame Tree Press, £12.95 / Can$21.95 / US$16.95, pbk, 311pp, ISBN 978-1-787-58666-6
This is the second part of the Cosmic Trilogy, which opened with The Sentient. I enjoyed the first part and also this continuation. In brief, this is more of the same and if you too enjoyed The Sentient then I would expect you to enjoy The Emergent as well.
This volume continues the story, picking up shortly after the end of the previous one. However, it is not at all necessary to have read the first volume as all the information that you need to know about the story so far, its background, and its relevant characters, is slipped very neatly into this story. Indeed, if you had not known of the first book, you might not realise that this is a follow-up, you might think you were just being filled in on the necessary background to a stand-alone novel.
The series is set about two hundred years into the future and it is roughly the same politically, though North American is now the North American Alliance. Much of the story is set in the city of Westport, on the Oregon coast. The Aldwych district (home to the Academy, important institutions and companies, and the Lower Earth Orbit industry) is a very special part of Westport; whilst it does not have its own laws, it certainly has its own rules and security forces, and there is a powerful hierarchy that runs through the tightly woven complex of academia and industry.
The two main political players, and antagonists, are the Compounds and the Cosmics. The Compounds are homes to extremely strict religious groups and only loosely adhere to the law; they believe in different states of existence, such as the Conscious plane, Nearhaven (rather like heaven), and Neverhaven (rather like hell). The Elders repress their people and rule through fear; the men dominate the women and everyone is cruel and repressive to their children. The Cosmics are a religious/scientific group; they are based in the cities and have very powerful players within the high-ups of Aldwych. In the past the two groups both worked somewhat with each other and somewhat against, each intending to dominate the other and also, ultimately, everyone.
Amira Valdez was born in southern Utah, in the Children of the New Covenant Compound, but she ran away and escaped to the outside world. Ten years later she graduated from the Academy in Aldwych, where she studied neuroscience and became a very talented therapist and holomentic reader. She was assigned to the Pandora initiative, a very important but secret project to produce a living clone of a human. Almost needless to say, there was treachery within the project, with a few Cosmics secretly working with the Compound. At the end of the first story, there was a major battle between the factions; the clone and her mother were saved, and the evil Elder Young met a satisfyingly bad end.
This story opens with Amira about to face the Aldwych Council for her part in the recent activities. Tony Barlow, the new head of the Pandora Project, firmly defends her and she is acquitted on all charges. He also asks that she be returned to her vital work on the project. Meanwhile, Elder Andrew Reznik, of the Trinity Compound, has taken up the reigns dropped by Elder Young and he will prove to be much worse; unlike his predecessor, he is not interested in the pleasures of the flesh but solely in power and the dominance by the Compounds over all people.
Lucia Morgan is the current head of the Cosmics. She and Tony Barlow do not see eye to eye but she has little option than to let him continue his work. Barlow, meanwhile, is perhaps the shrewdest player in the Cosmics and his aspirations go far beyond the Pandora Project, that is just a stepping stone to his real aim. By means of the mysterious drug tiresia, his hope is that a person’s consciousness, or at least part of it, could be transferred into their clone; if perfected, this could mean ‘eternal life’ in that someone’s consciousness would simply transfer from clone to clone to clone and they would never ‘die’. And Barlow will go to any length to see his project through!
Andrew Reznik has decided it is time for action and declares an unofficial war on the Cosmics, quite happily causing mayhem, death, and destruction in Westport. Apart from his normal religiously fanatical ‘soldiers’, he has a special weapon in the form of his wife, young Hannah Slaughter. He has obtained supplies of tiresia and if, say, it is slipped into the water supply it leaves people vulnerable to mental command, and, with the aid of a little technology, Slaughter has the ability to exert such control. In short, she can command a small army, formed from whoever has been affected by the tiresia, that is totally obedient and will follow any order. The effect of a large group of normal people suddenly becoming deadly killers is a serious threat to all in Westport.
Barlow leads a small party, including Amira, to Mexico and the hiding place of Eleanor Morgan, founder of the Cosmics, and Lucia’s mother. Although she had deserted the Cosmics, she has been continuing her researches into the Conscious Plane and death. She now wishes to return to Aldwych; she and Barlow have common goals.
The action heats up as they go in search of the remaining, hidden supplies of tiresia, whilst Reznik is also searching for the drug. Mother and daughter face each other in the council of the Cosmics, and Eleanor has an offer they cannot refuse, whilst Barlow continues with his plans and machinations. Meanwhile, Reznik ensures that knowledge of tiresia becomes public, especially the dreadful way it was created. And, one might say, battle commences. And Amira is unwillingly in the centre of it all, struggling both to survive and to do the right thing (whatever that might prove to be).
The book is most enjoyable and a worthy follow-up to The Sentient. Like the first volume, it can stand alone as a good read. As often, though, with the second part of a trilogy, the story is clearly not over and, whilst it ends at a suitable point in the overall storyline, there is a cliff-hanger which you known requires a third volume to complete the whole story. I look forward to reading it.
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