(2014) Gary Gibson, Tor, £18.99, hrdbk, 341pp, ISBN 978-0-230-77270-0
Jerry Beche is possibly the last human alive on Earth; everyone else has succumbed to an artificial plague to which only he – it transpired – had immunity. Then one day he sees footprint in the snow around his wind generator. At first he thought that some of the conspirators behind the plague had survived and were after him. However the reality was even stranger, he was captured by strangers who blindfolded him. When he did get to see to where he had been taken, he was surprised to find that a chunk had been taken out of the Moon…
Jerry had been saved from a life of loneliness and recruited into a team that scours recently extinct, alternate Earths for technology. He could not have conceived of the various ways that 21st century human civilization could succumb, the variety of hugely differing apocalypses, but now he was becoming an expert. However he and the fellow members of his team – all similar survivors of civilization extinction events – did not know from where those running the operation originated or why they were so desperate for the technology. Worryingly, the technology the seemed to be particularly after seemed to be more weapons and military related. But there was an enticing deal. After a decade's worth of undertaking missions, the team members would be given a wealthy retirement on a pleasant parallel Earth similar to the ones from which they respectively came but minus its apocalypse. And so things would not have mattered had not the accidents started. And suddenly there was a real need to know who was controlling these missions and why…
There have been many alternate/parallel Earth novels over the years and not least the recent Baxter/Pratchett Long Earth. Here Extinction Game is somewhat reminiscent of McAuley's Cowboy Angels but I feel sufficiently distinctive in its own right to stand on its own two feet; others might disagree but I do not mind further exploring a well worn trope if my attention is held and with Extinction Game it certainly was. This is a cracking, widescreen SF thriller and certainly one of the best of Gary Gibson's stand-alone novels to date. Fast paced, full of sense-of-wonder (sensawunda), structured with a strict internal logic (something you don't always get with a Gibson novel) and, of course, there is bags of 'quiet Earths' and not so quiet end of days. This is a hugely entertaining read and it is great to see Gibson continue to develop as a writer: his future bodes well. Though this is a perfectly self-contained novel and a neat package in its own right, there are a few areas ripe for exploration and I would certainly welcome more, if he decided to write a sequel, subject to there being sufficient plot progression. And here there is fair bit of mileage to exploit though part of Extinction Game's success is leaving out as much as adding in detail: it is not necessary to reveal exactly how some of the apocalypses some Earths experienced came about as the sense of wonder of seeing a snapshot of these Earths after the act is more than enough. What Gibson would need for a sequel (in addition to the aforesaid plot progression) is half a dozen or so different portraits of a downed global civilization and the dangers inherent in visiting such places. But this is getting off topic and into a hypothetical sequel. Suffice to say that as I have been contemplating a potential follow-up, it does more than suggest that I greatly enjoyed this SF adventure. It is rollicking SF.
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