(2016) Paul McAuley, Gollancz, £16.99 / Can$25.99 / US$19.99, trdpbk, 414pp, ISBN 978-1-473-20398-3
In the not too distant future, the enigmatic, alien Jackeroo gifted the Earth with an orbiting portal to a handful of worlds that now were accessible by Earth's own conventional space shuttles. These worlds were once the home to a number of the Jackeroo's previous clients, now long gone either through self-destruction, travel elsewhere, or evolving (presumably to some kind of higher plane). But artefacts remain and some contain code that can infect the human mind, sometimes with beneficial and sometimes not so beneficial if not harmful effects.
Earth's exploration of these worlds was given a boost when numerous alien space craft were discovered left abandoned ages ago to orbit a number of stars. Harnessing these craft mankind found other orbiting portals leading to new networks among the stars.
One one human colonised world gifted by the Jackeroo, Lisa is haunted by a ghost; an infection of alien code she caught when hunting through alien ruins with her former partner Willie who also was infected. That Lisa's ghost has chosen a moment to become active suggests to Lisa that something has happened to Willie. When the authorities turn up, accompanied by a Jackeroo, Lisa's suspicions are confirmed.
Meanwhile on a far-flung, now-deserted world, Tony is supervising the exploration of stromatolites thought to contain code that might lead to a cure for a sleepy sickness that affects humans. But raiders from a rogue confederacy of the new colony worlds have arrived at this system and the seem to want to claim-jump Tony's expedition's potential discoveries. Tony has no choice but to gather his team and leave in his family's alien built, now human controlled spacecraft. What does his family's Aunt Ada (an artificial intelligence imprinted with a human mind) know?
The raid on Tony's expedition and Lisa's ghost becoming active are the start of two chains of events that are ultimately set to entwine if, that is, the authorities do not get in the way. Perhaps in the process more might be learnt about the mysterious Jackeroo who largely remain silent claiming that they only want to help. And who exactly are the !Cha? These are yet other aliens that arrived with the Jackeroo but who are completely different and who seem to have another agenda to gather stories with which to woo their mates. One !Cha seems to take a separate interest in Lisa and Tony but is barely forthcoming as to what he may or may not know
Paul McAuley is once again on form with this intelligent thriller space opera. Much of the novel has a near future, almost pedestrian focus (albeit that events are off-world) as the key players seek to understand the coded infections they face. Yet, as it progresses, the wide-screen space-operatic backdrop of past stellar civilisations begins to come more to the fore. This is also a novel about coping with change and culture shock, but first and foremost it is a thoroughly engaging SF thriller that should not be rushed. Indeed paying attention is strongly advised and if you come across anything that does seem to contradict something earlier then be assure that it is not an author mistake but a clue as to setting and/or what is going on. Of course if you do rush in which is tempting as the novel is engaging and miss some of the discretely posted signposts, then do not worry as all becomes increasingly plain in the novel's latter third.
For myself, I loved Lisa's intelligent dog Pete, who can speak a thousand or so words. Conversely, the 'hands' or robotic extensions used by both artificial intelligences (AIs) and humans, took a little while getting used to, as did the 'bridles' human-developed AIs used to interface with the re-fitted alien ships. McAuley's use of non-standardised terminology for established SF tropes though initially confusing, does add to the story's other-worldliness.
Now, this novel is billed as stand-alone and, true, if can be read as such. However, it is in fact a follow-on from Something Coming Through with reference to some of its characters and also others appear in both novels. Indeed Into Everywhere and last year's Something Coming Through (2015) form a neat duology. Lucky you, you can now get both books together: I had to wait a year for my follow-up visit from the Jackeroo. But it is not just the storyline that connects these two novels, they also both have the same structure of twin plotlines spiralling in through space-time. This turns the duology more into a diptych.
Into Everywhere is hugely recommended and McAuley continues to be on form. Now, here I feel obliged to say a little about SF author Paul McAuley as I have just heard a well-known SF book podcast discuss Into Everywhere and none of its four panellists (established SF/fantasy book reviewers all) were familiar with McAuley's oeuvre well, one was aware of 'The Quiet War' sequence and a couple said they had come across Fairyland which they liked. But make no mistake Paul McAuley is an established writer who has been around almost as long as SF² Concatenation. His first novel was the space opera Four Hundred Billion Stars in 1988 I have to say that I am rather partial to a bit of McAuley space opera but he writes a number of subgenres from the afore to mundane SF (The Secret of Life), historical (Pasquale's Angel), to technothrillers (such as White Devils) and explored a number of tropes from space travel to parallel worlds (Cowboy Angels which itself is a great SFnal action adventure but I am not sure it has been published outside of Europe). He also has accrued some litcrit acclaim with Fairyland, but for me it is his more central SF and/or space operas that provide the real treats. Either way, if you have not come across him before then he really is a writer worth checking out and no better a place to start than with Something Coming Through and this novel, Into Everywhere.
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