Science Fiction Book Review

Against Gravity

(2006) Gary Gibson, Tor, 6.99, pbk, 524pp, ISBN 0-330-42018-6

Kendrick Gallmon is one of very few survivors of illegal experiments carried out against 'enemies' of the United States picked up in the aftermath of the nuking of Los Angeles. Confined in a research facility known as The Maze, Kendrick and others are subjected to invasive nanotech 'enhancements' and forced into gladiatorial contests for food, though many do not survive the treatments in the first place. At the same time a billionaire scientist called Draeger is losing control of a space habitat called Archimedes to rapidly-evolving nanotech known as the Bright. The Bright have been commissioned by the US President to search for God at the Tipler-esque Omega Point at the end of time... Eight years after his liberation from the Maze, in 2096, Kendrick is still trying to hold his rampant enhancements at bay, though it seems only a matter of time before his condition kills him, as it has so many of the other 'labrat' survivors. But now it seems that Kendrick is drawing all kinds of the wrong attention, including fellow labrats, Draeger and the remnants of the old US Army, Los Muertos, all of whom seem intent on visiting the off-limits Archimedes space station. A spacetime distortion, thought to be a wormhole to the Omega Point, has been discovered in close proximity to the Archimedes, and it seems the Bright intend to take the station through it. Gallmon's friends start dying around him, killed before their enhancements can do the job, and Draeger is particularly interested in meeting him. Can there be some connection between Kendrick's enhancements and the Bright and, if so, what? And who was really behind the experiments in the Maze, and what can Kendrick do about it after all this time?

This is Gibson's second novel (the first was Angel Stations (2004)) and moves along at quite a cracking pace considering its length. Told with multiple flashbacks to the Maze of 2088, it mixes the nightmarish realm of illegal experimentation in the past with a thriller-like ride through events of the present. Most of the characters are convincing and the plot is quite engaging, with the final quarter of the book being set on the Archimedes. Unfortunately it is around here that things start to break down. The Bright do not really convince, Draeger's motivation for wanting Kendrick seems to evaporate and the other labrats who have made the trip (implicitly at the Bright's invitation) seem little more than cannon fodder. The book ends on something of a cliff-hanger note, though there seems little realistic opportunity for a sequel and, with so many characters on the verge of death anyway, there seems little point in bothering to care about any of them. By contrast, everything before, on Earth and in the flashbacks, was much more interesting, so the end comes as something of a letdown. Still worth a read though.

Tony Chester

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