Fiction Reviews


(2004) Tony Ballantyne, Tor, 6.99, pbk, 457pp, ISBN 978-0-330-42699-0


Herb is on his spaceship having (unlawfully) deployed self-replicating, terraforming nano-bots (Von Neumann Machines) onto a pristine world so as to create his own paradise city and world. All well and good, but the nanobots do not function promptly and so ruin the world. Though light years from anywhere, an immaculately dressed man, Robert Johnston appears and declares that he is from the Environment Agency and that herb must pay for his crime. Either herb must spend years with his brain toiling away on mundane computational tasks in the cold outer reaches of the Solar system, or Herb can help him and the Environment Agency investigate the enemy domain: a spreading region where alien Von Neumann Machines dominate and which will ultimately encroach on Earth's sphere of influence.

Meanwhile, on Earth, Constantine is beginning to question reality. A man of great standing and many resources at his disposal, he is playing with the powers that be. However he is beginning to query what he considers is happening around him.

And then there is Eva Rye, of whom the minute details of her humdrum existence is planned for by Social Services and who is seeking to escape to have a life of her own. But even suicide does not seem to offer a way out.

This is Tony Ballantyne's debut novel. It is rich, complex and thought-provoking. Though some may find the weave difficult to follow -- the novel has its challenges the story has depths in which to revel and which, for a debut, elevates it head and shoulders above the crowd so signalling that the author may well in the future be a powerful voice in British SF. Recursion also delights in raising some old intractable questions that have virtually become SFnal tropes in their own right. For example, the Fermi Paradox not to mention humanity's relationship with more power artificial intelligences. Throw in dives into and out of cyberspace, issues of personal and corporate freedom wrapped all up into a future that has elements of both utopia and dystopias, and we get a rich work that entices the reader to seek out its sequel: Capacity. Our (Concatenation's) Tony C. has been banging on about Ballantyne and Recursion and so I felt that I was long overdue in checking out this novel. Having done so I can say that it was well worth it and I recommend that you do too. However, you may care to note that currently (2011) not only has Ballantyne completed his first trilogy (of which this is a part) but has written a second that has a very different feel to it (see Blood and Iron). There is nothing wrong with this: it demonstrates that the author is capable to cater for a broader readership. It will be interesting to see what else the man will offer us this coming decade. Keep an eye out.

Jonathan Cowie

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