(2015) Gavin Smith, Gollancz, £16.99, trdpbk, 567pp, ISBN 978-0-575-12699-2
The sequel to The Age of Scorpio, A Quantum Mythology picks up just where the last book left us and the previous work is definitely essential reading before you embark on this one. Cleverly author Gavin Smith disperses the narratives from different time periods immediately, having brought them together in theme at the end of the last book. For those unfamiliar with the ideas from before, previously we had a historical past written with overtones of epic fantasy, a present urban fantasy and a far future science fiction all joined together by nano-technology. In A Quantum Mythology these threads continue and new ones appear; the far future is split into differing perspectives and a new 17th century storyline is added.
The central concern established at the beginning is what Vic and Scab should do with the mysterious pre-Fall bridge technology they have found. This tech manifests itself as a vulnerable young girl, who was kidnapped back in the modern day storyline of the previous novel. Her abilities remain a mystery, as do those of the characters in the historical contexts and this is where Smith establishes the 'mythology' of the book and the quality that raises the sequel above its predecessor. We know the characters of each timeline are empowered by nanites, but as they interact and fight one another we do not know their potential. The digital transaction of their gifts is not solely based on mechanically described writing, instead it is translated into the appropriate encoding of the time period and character perspective. We get the sense of myth and epic from the past, a more grounded thriller flavour from the present and conceptual language in the science fiction in the future. The technological explanation does remain at the core of the work, with Smith’s invented ‘neunonics’ and other terminology.
Much like The Age of Scorpio before it A Quantum Mythology’s older settings and plots are much more descriptively evocative and easier to digest. Here we have a type of writing we can connect with directly as it speaks to us as a particularly strong brand of epic fantasy, albeit couched in clear historical period. Now that the nanite connection between has been revealed, Smith can get on with developing characters and stories.
The shift towards the mysterious, even in the highly digitised future, is most welcome as it places limitations on characters in a non-specific way and adds to the inference of success and failure. It is occasionally hard for the reader to connect with characters who are attempting to achieve something, but continually transcend the human experience of death, physical form and distance. We understand these people are for the most part beyond us, The Age of Scorpio taught us that, but A Quantum Mythology brings us a more developed frame of reference, particularly by including Talia in the future context. The eventual love triangle between her, Vic and Scab is depicted from the viewpoint of the intelligent insect (Vic) and this highlights the flaws of each character. The introduction of Elodie makes this even more conflicted. Everything rotates around Scab, his unrevealed plan, propensity to violence, continual contingencies and more, make him the unlikeable focal point.
The new contexts bring with them a set of additional viewpoint characters. At times this are single chapter episodes or head hops mid scene. In this Smith’s writing appears chameleon-like in that the detail of the style also morphs depending on the context. Tangwen, Germelqart and Kush take up the story from Britha’s time period. This has evolved into a Garneresque nightmare with hints of Lovecraft scattered throughout. The switching between characters action of the sequences is clearly delineated by scene breaks, ensuring the narrative remains unsettled but located, whereas Britha, Fachtna and Teardrop’s new context has head hopping mid-scene. These changes do confuse the reader somewhat as we try to accommodate each new writing style and perspective in our picture of the scenes.
The return to the modern time period reunites us with du Bois and here the characterisation is more developed. Again, the modern writing is a strength, tempering the use of science fiction technology into a manhunt .The arrogance of du Bois from Age of Scorpio is tempered by experience and a little self-depreciating humour creeps in.
Britha’s own context is transitory. Her timeline was of the past, but her new situation becomes more and more of a blend in the writing. In The Age of Scorpio, Smith made the links between time periods apparent towards the end, but here there manifest throughout the work.
This multiplicity of narrative is testing for the reader. With other patchwork narratives you have a common theme of genre, so you might be transitioning in three dimensions between chapters (plot, setting, character), but with Smith’s writing in this book and its predecessor you are transitioning through four (the addition of time period) or five (the writing style), not to mention the widening number of narrative strands, some of which end early and others that start late. At first glance you might think it is messy, but it is not: there is conceptual artifice here to create a genre transcending concept that can be translated into a story at any point in time. It is the fictional proof of Clarke’s third law and whilst this might be self-evident from the first book, A Quantum Mythology validates this and more, by mixing all the tools a writer might use in any genre and spreading them as butter wherever required.
A Quantum Mythology is the second part of Smith’s trilogy and hopefully the reviews of it will attract more readers to The Age of Scorpio so they can best appreciate the scope of what Smith is trying to build with these stories. Certainly once the three books are concluded there is massive scope to make use of the premise across all manner of historical and futuristic contexts, tying in new story ideas with the vast swirl of characters, organisations and circumstances that already exist.
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