Fiction Reviews


(2007) Tony Ballantyne, Tor UK, 6.99, pbk, 419pp, ISBN 978-0-330-44651-8


This is the third novel in Ballantyne's debut 'Watcher' series: indeed, this is his third novel. It follows Recursion and Capacity that Tony has reviewed (and here is my own review of Capacity). I should point out at this stage that the 'Watcher' series is hard SF combined with what is effectively science fantasy (in this case the sense is that the SF is so hard that it becomes fantastical). Importantly you need to know that the series is extremely complex and while it was possible to read the second, Capacity, first, starting off with the third, Divergence, would be difficult as the luggage from the previous books is so considerable that without a knowledge of what has gone on it is difficult for new readers to get their bearings. Consequently if you are new to the series then stop reading this now and check out the reviews for the earlier books to see whether they are likely to be your cup of tea. As for the rest of this review, it is a spoiler for the first two novels.

Judy, erstwhile Social Care operative for the Earth-controlling artificial intelligence (AI), 'The Watcher', is in interstellar space on a passenger ship when suddenly it is attacked by Dark Plant Schrodinger boxes. Kevin (the presumably AI?) had brought a Dark Seed to Earth to combat the watcher and now swathes of Earth space was contaminated. All seemed lost but at the last minute Judy and the passengers are rescued by combat drones from DIANA, a long lost, industrial enterprise from the pre-Watcher era. Taken to the drones' main DIANA ship, the ship informs Judy that she was in fact created and owned by Diana...

Meanwhile a handful of misfits is on another ship trying to fathom who to master its Fair Exchange barter software so that it can trade with other Fair Exchange ships.

Meanwhile on and near Earth, the battle between the Watcher and Kevin continues.

This then is the core set-up and added into the mix are flash-backs (or recreated depictions) of Eva Rye the first human being to whom The Watcher revealed itself. All these threads come together to resolve the various plot elements.

Now if you thought Capacity was densely plotted with exotic ideas, then you need to know that Divergence tops this. Though it is not a book for the faint-hearted, stout readers who enjoy both hard SF and science fantasy will be well satisfied with this conclusion to the Watcher trilogy. Ballantyne has launched himself with a bang and it is going to be interesting to see whether or not he becomes a major force in British SF.

Jonathan Cowie

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