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Tor paperback £10.99
review by Simeon Shoul
Long ago a vanished species left relics of its civilisation strewn across the galaxy. Dubbed 'Angels' by humanity, this species possessed an almost god-like technology, including time and space distorting machines, miraculous bio-ware and nanotech, and immense teleportation hubs, including one in our own solar system. These hubs, the 'Angel Stations' are eagerly seized upon by humanity in its leap for the stars, while intrepid scientists and archaeologists dig deeper and deeper into abandoned Angel ruins searching for more techno-marvels.
Humanity, however, doesn't weather the transition into a space-travelling society all that smoothly. Earth groans under an ever-swelling population, while its ecology creaks and founders under manmade problems and Angel biotech plagues gone wrong and escaped from the lab. Fundamentalist religious cults, mingled with genetic meddling, lead to some extremely disturbing results and in a world where central authority seems to have pretty much collapsed the result is a weird melange of conspiracy and anarchy.
The only thing that humanity seems to have got right is its policy towards the one sentient species its interstellar explorations have revealed. The Kaspians, an iron-age society of dog-like aliens, dwelling much closer to the galactic core than humanity, have been strictly quarantined, while a large community of scientists watches their slow development by remote viewing means. Inevitably this situation is unstable. There are intimations of approaching disaster, a galaxy-wide cataclysm, and it seems the only answer to this apocalypse may be buried amidst lost Angel ruins on embargoed Kaspar...
Gibson's book traces the struggles played out on Kaspar's surface and in orbit, between genetically altered supermen, between scientists and military, and between the fundamentalist cultists who will stop at nothing to seize what they proclaim will be a new Eden for humanity (their humanity that is) no matter what the cost. Anyone who knows the genre will thus easily recognise themes that have dominated the work of recent writers like Vernor Vinge and, most particularly, Alastair Reynolds.
So, how does the story read? Well, it begins with promise. Gibson shows an initially sure hand with the techno-speak of contemporary science fiction. He sets up a few good scenes in Earth's slum arcologies, and there's one very convincing fight, featuring a sonic slammer that does quite spectacularly nasty things to its victim. Thereafter, however, the novel gradually but inexorably winds down. Gibson never quite recaptures the vividness of his opening. His characters, despite the many crises they have to negotiate, almost never strike a chord of anxiety or sympathy with the reader. Possibly this is because they are all such serious people; the novel is strikingly lacking in wit.
Pace and plot are also unsatisfying. The story does not accelerate to its final�, it strolls, then it ambles, then it dawdles, and there is nothing new here in terms of the factions or individuals struggling with each other, or in the causes for which they struggle. The technology too is uninteresting. Angel tech operates at such an elevated level that, to quote Arthur C. Clarke, it is "indistinguishable from magic," while most human technology is issued straight from the Science Fiction Writers' general store. Items like ceramic guns (intended to foil security scans) are passé nowadays. Sadly, at the end, one has to conclude that Gibson has nothing new to say, and that he tells his story in a manner at once lackadaisical and over-earnest.
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