Fiction Reviews

Survival Game

(2016) Gary Gibson, Tor, 18.99, hrdbk, 343pp, ISBN 978-0-230-77277-9


It's the end of the worlds for an advanced, technological human civilization spanning many alternate Earths in the far distant past. A small group of survivors flee and manage to gather on a desolate alternate whose own civilization has long gone. It appears that the survivors' own civilisation has succumbed to an invasion of creatures, or machines or something, from the Deeps: an alternate Earth whose universe has different laws of physics. Apparently, it was the use of a new way using pan-dimensional hyperspheres of transporting between universes that summoned the beings from the Deeps. However, this technology was very useful in that it reached across the dimensions to find among the infinite alternates that contained whatever it was the user wanted.

Jump to the present and Katyna and Thomas are part of a Soviet civilization that has managed to achieve a simple form of transportation between alternate Earths and has its own Republic spanning several alternate Earths. But Katyna and Thomas are on the run: they had been researching a broken hypersphere the Soviets (the First Republic of the Novo-Rossiyskaya Imperia) and were on the Twelfth Republic but had been betrayed and once more caught to serve the Soviet Imperia.

The Soviet Imperia Tsar was old and frail and his potential successors were biding their time before they took over: a prospect for some protected by the Tsar that meant a fall from favour or even worse. If the Tsar had a hypersphere, he could think of a world with the technology known to exist from a few records discovered that contained a healing rejuvenation pool with which he could regain his health and youth.

The Imperia had discovered a parallel Earth that, though the home to a technological human civilization (The Authority), itself was falling into a climatic glacial and had its own team of alternate explorers searching for a viable alternate Earth devoid of humans but capable of being the Authority's new home. These explorers were in turn based on a post-apocalyptic Earth's Easter Island (one of the few safe places on this hazardous alternate). The Novo-Rossiyskaya Imperia agents learned that it seemed that these Authority explorers may have found a cache of hyperspheres and Katyna and her political secret service minder were covertly inserted as Russian experts from the Authority's alternate in theory to help the authority discover a viable alternate to their own doomed Earth but in reality they were to secure a hypersphere for the Imperia and the Tsar.

Gary Gibson has provided us with a rollercoaster ride across parallel alternate Earth's filled with wonder and danger in his latest hard-ish SF thriller: hard-ish SF because the concept of alternate Earth's is part of a quantum physics view championed among others by Hugh Everett III and which includes other aspects of quantum theory including entanglement: even Pauli's exclusion principle is hinted at (though I suspect, given the author's non-science background, this might be coincidental) as well as a few aspects that relate Kaluza-Klein and superstring theory (again likely coincidental but the multiverse is also now such a fairly standard SF trope that some of its supporting science concepts have become regularly used by SF writers).

Survival Game starts, hitting the ground, at a run. Don't bother to pause to catch your breath as it is all go with just the occasional slowing of pace to change gear before its off again at break-neck speed through to the book's conclusion. Along the way we not only see a number of post-apocalyptic Earth's with their own dangers visited but a few with a global catastrophe brought down upon them as the protagonists wend their way. Few novels can sustain such a pace but here Gibson has. Yes, it is clichéd of me to say that this novel is a 'proverbial page-turner' but it is at least accurate. With a variation of worlds, monsters, hyper advance civilization, beings from the Deeps, action and a combination of Harrison Ford Indiana Jones and Bruce Willis Die Hard antics, what's not to like.

It should be said that this book is technically the sequel to The Extinction Game but is sufficiently standalone to be read by itself. Having said that readers should perhaps read The Extinction Game first as some of its characters, including its own principal protagonist Jerry Beche, are firmly rooted in this adventure. If you like SF romps combined with an exploration of a solid SF trope wrapped up in a high-powered adventure then you'll love Gary Gibson's Survival Game.

Jonathan Cowie

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