(2011) Gary Gibson, Tor, £17.99, hrdbk, 373pp, ISBN 978-0-230-74877-4
This is Gary Gibson's first stand-alone novel since his space opera 'Shoal' sequence that began with Stealing Light. This time we have a hard SF, space-opera-ish, pre-apocalyptic thriller.
It is the 23rd century and a wormhole network connects Earth to her colonies some of whom are more than a hundred light years away. The story begins with an exploration team that has discovered another, alien wormhole network that connects with a long-derelict world a hundred trillion years into the future: it is not just great distance that is traversed but deep time too. However one of the team, Mitchell Stone, has an accident that sets off alien technology. He is rescued and brought back to the 23rd century present along with some of the discovered alien technology. All well and good, but when a second team exploring the network they discover a near-future destroyed Earth and a wrecked lunar (wormhole colony transit) base. The thing is that there is one survivor in a cryogenic tank: Mitchell Stone! Mitchell Stone 2 is also brought back to the present from this near-future.
With two Mitchell Stones, the authorities know that something is very paradoxically wrong and that the end of the world looms. All this is something the authorities want to keep quiet. Meanwhile agent Saul Dumont and his partner get rumbled when on an undercover operation. In a bid to maintain his cover and to have his 'loyalty' tested, Saul is forced kill his undercover partner. His bosses (understandably) do not react kindly and give him the choice of undertaking another covert black-op or face the career threatening consequences of an official investigation into his killing his former partner. The op, it transpires, is connected with the alien technology brought back to Earth. Then when the kilometre high plants begin to grow out of the oceans, the authorities begin to lose their grip on events…
Gary Gibson has given us a cracking read along with a really good dollop of sensawunda (sense-of-wonder). Along the way there are a number of nice touches: I loved the 'Apollo-themed Mission' to the Moon, which also is depicted on Steve Stone's cover artwork for the first (British Isles) edition. I also liked the contact lenses everyone wears capable of being linked to the internet so you can text, have voice translation, ID others contacts and so forth. (This intrigued me so much I even got to thinking as to how they might possibly work: atomic-level circuitry, using tear fluid as an electrolyte for power, is but one option. Hard SF does this to me. Sad, I know.)
As said, this is a rollicking novel and it certainly delivers on many fronts. The only really weak element is that he does not work out the implications of the time-effect wormholes have but simply skates over it. Indeed the author must have been aware that he had not fully woven this into the story as we get as we get a mini-info dump in an acknowledgement page on this concept. Now this is a shame because the obvious conclusions of the set up we get from the first quarter of this novel would restrict the way Earth colonised other worlds creating the topology of the colony wormhole network but in a away that Gibson actually uses: so it would not unduly mess up the plot. I do not know whether this is laziness on the author's part or whether he doubts whether many readers would be able to cope with such concept exploration. Yet concept exploration is one of the great things about hard SF. If it is laziness then Gibson should pull his socks up. If it is lack of faith in his readers being able to cope with such concept exploration then Gibson do not worry: hard SF readers tend to be scientifically literate and so are used to logical exploration of exotica.
Notwithstanding this last, this is a fine, hard SF read and Gibson is continuing to shape up nicely as a writer.
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