(1998) John Meaney, Bantam Books, £8.99, pbk, 556pp, ISBN 0-553-50588-2
As I was perusing the second-hand shelves recently I spotted a book with what was clearly a Jim Burns cover, and I do so like Jimís work. Picking it up I noticed that the author was John Meaney. So far I have read the first two books of his Ragnarok trilogy (and enjoyed them both) and it was clear from these that there was an earlier story, set about a hundred years beforehand, one that I ought to read - and now I had found it!
Opening at the first page, I was faced with a kaleidoscope of emotions and computer code. A strange opening perhaps, but it is the internal language of the Luculenti and it had me gripped. By the end of the second chapter we had already met several of the major characters, had an introduction to the world of Fulgor, and the sense that something nasty was going on and would take a lot of stopping. Already the worlds of the future, their societies and technologies, were well defined and felt real; clearly the author had a well thought-through vision and was describing it very well; no wonder praise from well known authors was prominent on the cover Ė and this was only his first novel!
Fulgor is perhaps one of the most advanced of the planets populated by mankind, and Tetsuo Sunadomari has not been there long. He has skills and knowledge that are desirable to some of the local business people and he is doing quite well, though he is finding that the competition is of the highest order and he is struggling to make good on his promises. He has been sponsored for upraise to Luculentus and has recently had the plexnodes and other microscopic equipment inserted within his body; though yet to become fully operational, this will give him the ability to perform mental tasks in fractions of a second that would take anyone else many months and allows immediate communications access to all the other Luculenti. Business is the name of the game on Fulgor, and the Luculenti are at the very top of the game; even with his enhancements life is still going to be extremely challenging.
Then things start to go wrong, very wrong, as his home is attacked by sinister forces and he barely escapes and is forced into hiding. Meanwhile Yoshiko Sunadomari, his mother, visits from Earth only to find her son missing after the devastating attack on his home. Not knowing anyone, she has to navigate both Luculenti and normal society whilst she tries both to search for her son and to understand the world she is on. It is soon evident to her that something very serious is going on, especially as Luculenti are dying in odd ways, often looking like accidents, and the local police are perplexed.
At the same time we are introduced to Luculentus Rafael Garcia de la Vega and we are in no doubt that he is the villain. He has become fixated with absorbing the personalities and memories of other Luculenti and has devised vampire code which will overwhelm their defences and download their data into his plexnodes; a process his victims do not survive.
Whilst Tetsuo comes to terms with his predicament and tries to fight back, and Yoshiko continues her investigations, we meet many interesting characters. But which can be trusted? Are the police necessarily on the side of the public or are there self-serving factions with in it? And what of the Pilots, the modified humans who can pilot their craft through mu-space without loosing their minds, and without whom there would be no travel between mankindís many outposts?
The technology is inventive and yet naturally described, as if we are all using it ourselves everyday (such as the ever-reusable, cleansing smart gel that crawls over you before putting itself away and leaving you clean and refreshed - a great advance on mere soap, and no need for showers or washing water on a space ship). The cities and buildings feel real despite being futuristic, and the people are, well, still normal, believable people. The whole story moves along at a nice pace, never too fast and only briefly too slow (it felt a tad extended somewhere around the middle), and remains interesting throughout. Whilst we know that Rafael is the villain, Fulgorís society has many factions and there are many other things going on and we only find out the full story as the book comes to its close.
For a first novel it is impressive; indeed, it reads like a book from a well-seasoned author who has many excellent novels under his belt. Amongst its great strengths is that the author has thought hard about his worlds and their technologies, figured out what would be really useful and therefore be developed to the point of being simply part of everyday life, written it quietly into the fabric of the story without trumpeting about it, and developed realistic characters that we care about. And on top of it all, he has written a really good and interesting story.
For Matt's take on this novel see his review of To Hold Infinity.
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