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Paradox
John Meaney
Bantam paperback £6.99

review by Amy Harlib

Paradox is the second science fiction novel by UK writer John Meaney whose first book, To Hold Infinity (1998), garnered much praise and was nominated for a British SF Association award. Paradox, just recently published in the USA in hardcover by Pyr/Prometheus ($25), set in the same invented far-future universe as the first book but not a direct sequel, is a dazzling work of imagination and invention as deserving of accolades as its predecessor.

Nulapeiron, the setting, is a multi-levelled world of exotic subterranean cities maintained by bizarre organic technologies, where a meritocracy of intellectual Lords literally keep the lower classes in their places below, the conditions getting worse the further down one gets. In this rigidly stratified society, change is taboo, maybe impossible, the status quo maintained by the elites under the dictates of the barely human 'Oracles', who - disconnected from time - envision a predetermined, unalterable future.

The protagonist, young Tom Corcorigan - raised in a lower strata marketplace neighbourhood, son of an artisan father and an enigmatic, mentally disturbed dancer-mother, loses his parents to a cruelly self-fulfilling prediction, and an Oracle's whim respectively. To add insult to injury, Tom's left arm is amputated in a miscarriage of the Lords' cruel justice, leaving him seething with rage and hatred. An outlawed Pilot, who has navigated the currently proscribed complexities of mu-space, in an unexpected encounter with Tom, gives him a seemingly insignificant biographical data-crystal, a gift that inspires him to take charge of his life.

There follows a detailed chronicle of Tom's gradual rise from Dickensian rags to the riches of Nulapeiron's high society, for he has enough innate intelligence and affinity for mathematics to use the crystal as a means to a vengeful end if the paradox of how to kill an Oracle whose moment of death is final, known and distant in time - is solved. This would open up the possibility of change.

The narrative is punctuated at intervals, by flashback-type segments dramatising episodes from the life of the Pilot Karyn, scenes contained within the crystal as data used to awaken the potentials in Tom's mind when he chooses to access it. This is just one example of Meaney's dazzling inventiveness as the unfolding saga of Tom's rise and fall and ultimate fate is presented rife with unpredictable twists, revelations, weird biotechnological creations, fascinating martial arts training and action and cleverly conceived, odd alliances set against an intricate multicultural, multi-layered (literally), colourful backdrop.

Fully realised characters, male and female, representing all strata of Nulapeiron's society populate this powerful novel in which philosophy is as hard a science as physics, but the abstruse speculations add to the verisimilitude of Meaney's created world, never getting in the way of the exciting plot in which the themes of the inevitability of resistance to oppression and the necessity for change are prominent. Meaney sustains suspense with his skilful writing, right up until the satisfying end while leaving hints for sequels to come that readers will crave. This is a book that should not be missed by serious aficionados of SF literature.
Paradox by John Meaney

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