Fiction Reviews


(2012) John Meaney, Gollancz, trdpbk, £12.99, 424pp, ISBN 978-0-575-08536-7


This is the second book of the Ragnarok trilogy, which started with Absorption. The first thing that struck me was the cover - I do so love the art work of Jim Burns and this is no exception. I should confess here that I thoroughly enjoyed the first part of the trilogy, so, with such a good start, would I enjoy this book? Well … yes.

In the first book we learned that there is something dark at the galactic core, and Dark means Nasty. We learned that the dark forces work subtly by identifying a person here and a person there that can be exploited and encouraged to actions which will be damaging to their societies. We also learned of the Ragnarok Council, a group of heroes who can see the darkness which surrounds around the dark servants. In particular, though, these heroes live at different points in time but communicate via the council, which convenes in the far future.

Transmission picks up where Absorption finished and simply continues the story. Those who have not read the first part need not worry about picking up the story-so-far as the author has subtly slipped in the entire background story that you will need, slotting it in nicely as the narrative proceeds. Personally, partly because it was eighteen months since I read it and partly because I am like that anyway, I spent an hour or so nipping through Absorption before starting on its successor. The point is, though, once into Transmission I realised that I need not have done so, the author had provided what was needed.

Again the action takes place over many centuries with each character being firmly placed in his/her own time. The narrative flits back and forth along the time stream, each story being told within its own chronology, and between them they are woven into a whole - and John Meaney continues to weave well.

Our first hero is the Viking Ulfr and we meet him again in the year 777. He is strong and courageous and not easily deceived so, when the itinerant storyteller Stígr weaves his dark will into the minds of the villagers, Ulfr is able to see through him and drive him off. But Stígr moves from village to village and Ulfr finds himself hunting after him and trying to make good the evils he has wreaked. In this he is not alone; the trolls are also trying to stop Stígr. Trolls? Well actually they are Zajinets, strange creatures, as yet unknown to humans, who can teleport through the Calabi-Yau dimensions. They are also fighting the darkness and have found a new ally in Ulfr.

We move forward to the period 1941 to 1953 and follow physicist Gavriela Wolf, a German Jew who had escaped to England. She spends the war working for Station X at Bletchley Park where she helps decipher German communications (and is able to spot the special messages sent by the darker agents), as well as visiting the atomic bomb researchers at Los Alamos. When the war finishes she finds herself invited to join the new GCHQ (the Government Communications Headquarters), which turns out to be full of her old colleagues from Station X. Meanwhile, the Russian spy Dmitri Shtemenko is in Japan, discovering that the Japanese are more interested in attacking Pearl Harbour than Russia. Maintaining his pose as a German officer he returns to Europe and continues to serve his home country whilst (mostly) resisting the siren calls of the darkness to which he is prone.

Moving on to 2033, Lucas Woods is surprised to receive a message from Gavriela, the grandmother he had never met. He is especially surprised as it appears to come from her directly yet using technology that only just now exists. It makes no sense until later in the day when triple gamma-ray bursters are seen from the galactic anti-centre and, minutes later, worm attacks tear the data to shreds and delete it from everywhere in the worldwide cloud, an almost impossible event. As it happened, Lucas had a memory flake in his pocket and had recorded a few seconds of the data before the attack and he comes to realise that he has the only intact copy. Spurred on by Gavriela’s message, his researches lead him to Gus Calzonni who has recently postulated the existence of mu-space. Using her research equipment he sends the memory flake to the mu-space coordinates that his grandmother described.

In 2147 Rekka Chandri is grieving the loss of her friend Sharp, a native of the planet EM-0036, who had given his life so that his people may learn of the humans. Whilst others of his race are now on Earth and Rekka is part of the project to communicate with them, life is not going too happily for her. Her friend Amber, one of the early Pilots who fly their craft through mu-space, is concerned for her baby son Jared, one of the new breed of Pilots born in mu-space rather than created by medical intervention. And it seems that Jared Schenck is destined to play an important part in the history of Pilots.

Arriving in 2603 we reach the majority of the action and move back and forth between Labyrinth, the home in mu-space of the Pilots, and the planet Molsin.

Roger Blackstone is a young Pilot and he is in Labyrinth mourning the loss of his heroic parents, Carl and Miranda. Carl had been an Agent In Place on the planet Fulgor when the disaster stuck; they had given their lives in hellflights to Labyrinth to raise the alarm and initiate the saving of the planet’s few survivors.

Fulgor’s disaster started when the Luculenta Raschella Stargonier illegally connected herself to a plexnode once owned by the murderous Rafael Garcia de la Vega and his vampire code then overwhelmed her. She became Rafaella Stargonier and immediately started her own plans to take over all the Luculenti. As her domination grew she subsumed not just the Luculenti but the ordinary people and even the control mechanisms of the quickstone and quickglass buildings of which the cities were made. The planet is now home to a gigantic gestalt mind of unknown power or intent, simply known as the Anomaly, and has been quarantined.

Roger soon finds himself on the planet Molsin, or more precisely in Barbour, one of the hundreds of cities floating in its poisonous atmosphere. He soon realises that Molsin is also in danger; Dr. Petra Helsen, the dark architect of Fulgor’s doom, is loose in the city and doubtless engaged in more evil work. Teaming up with Tannier, a local policeman, and Rhianna Chiang, the Pilot’s local Agent In Place, Roger sets off to hunt for her before her plans can succeed. Whilst thus engaged, Rhianna takes the opportunity to train Roger in the secret arts that he will need; she clearly sees him as following in his father’s footsteps.

Back on Labyrinth, the internal politics are warming up. Commodore Max Gould, Carl Blackstone’s boss, has been 'arrested' (for which read kidnapped) by the security forces of the current Admiral Schenck and is being 'interrogated' (for which read tortured). Meanwhile Pavel Karelin strongly suspects that some of the most senior officers are up to something very bad and rescues Max, who in turn 'escapes' and is chased to the galactic core, returning with both evidence and witnesses. Little realising he has been rumbled Admiral Schenck has started to assassinate other admirals but suddenly finds himself accused of treachery not just by Max but by Labyrinth itself. He manages to escape, accompanied by several hundred Pilots who prove to be involved in his extensive plot. As Max and Pavel meet with the remaining admirals to decide what to do next, space-time wriggles and an ancient memory flake pops into existence.

We continue to 5563, to The World, where we find the silver-skinned Harij still trying to catch passing Ideas. His sister Ilara is deeply suffering so one night he takes her from the village to a place where she will be happier. Returning to the village his people are deeply disturbed by his actions and cast him out, leaving him to become a Seeker. He is condemned to wandering the surface of The World, hiding from the daytime dangers of the sun, seeking more of the ephemeral Ideas which float through the fields of flux. He comes across another Seeker who has been captured by strange aliens in an equally strange craft, but even as they torture him a flux storm encompasses them, enabling Harij to perform a rescue whilst the aliens are destroyed by the ferocity of the storm. Both Seekers are now aware of something archaic and huge buried deep beneath the sands…

Our heroes continue to be linked by occasional dreams as they become more aware that they are part of something larger, the Ragnarok Council. Arriving on Luna in the year 502019 we find ourselves wandering through airless halls where our heroes occasionally inhabit their bodies of living crystal. They are lead by Kenna and are linked in the common purpose of fighting the darkness. For Kenna, this is not her first attempt; the previous one (or ones?) ended in failure. But the darkness cannot be allowed to win…

I repeat my comments on Absorption when I say that scenes, particularly the cities and buildings of the future, continue to be described evocatively and with wonder as to the magnificence that would meet the reader’s eyes. The technology is inventive but is nicely taken for granted as if we were already using it every day. As I read more of John Meaney, I am finding that he has a real talent in this area!

As before, the individual stories within the whole are well told and kept my interest, and together they continue to give a sense of the timeless battle being waged. The book was easy to read and nicely paced, always interesting and without noticeable peaks and troughs; it was often difficult to put down.

And now for a small apology. When I reviewed Absorption I commented that the ending of that volume was, perhaps, a touch lame. I’d missed something earlier on, merely a line, but an important one. Just before starting his hellflight, Carl had left his son a legacy, a baby ship of his own, the child of his own ship. Safely protected within the folding spaces of Labyrinth and protected by Labyrinth itself, the baby has been growing. Transmission ends with Roger about to take her out for their maiden flight - and she has her mother’s memories…

All-in-all, a good read and I look forward to the final instalment. I really want to know how it all ends!

Peter Tyers

Transmission has been cited by a number of the SF2 Concatenation team as one of the best science fiction books of 2012.

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