(Telos, £7.99, 117 pages, paperback; also available as deluxe,
signed, numbered, limited edition hardback priced £30.00; published
Latimer is one of four maintenance crew on a sleeper ship of five thousand,
on a millennia-long search for a new Earthlike world to colonise. Every
fifteen hundred years, the four are supposed to wake up, check that
everything's running properly, and go back to sleep until the ship's
AI finds a suitable planet. But it doesn't work out like that--one thousand
years out, something goes wrong. The crew are woken early to find two
of their five colonist hangars have been torn off the ship, and they
can't make contact with their AI. Nonetheless they go to sleep for another
thousand years, and this time wake up to find the AI has converted their
passengers into a small army of cybernetic drones. All of a sudden they're
the last four humans, battling for their lives against the half-machine
remnants of friends and loved ones.
This isn't a philosophical, meditative novel. It comes across like
a Hollywood sci-fi blockbuster: entertaining but slapdash. The plot
doesn't hang together too well under scrutiny, which again suggests
a filmic rather than literary endeavour. The notion of a selected five
thousand being punted off in a sleeper ship from a wrecked Earth is
too clearly a MacGuffin to get the characters into the desired situation,
and is dispensed with in the prelude. There's no room (or inclination)
to dwell on the wider implications of sending out only five thousand
colonists in only one ship as humanity's entire effort at species survival,
and with no actual definite target in mind. Well, it is only a novella--working
out the backstory in depth would stretch the story out to the length
of a full novel, and besides it isn't the story Brown wants to tell.
I was a bit surprised there wasn't more follow-up to the damage done
to the ship, though--given the build-up I was expecting it to play a
key part in the novella's denouement. There are hints early on of anti-colonist
saboteurs, and hints early and later on of wilful negligence, if not
actual manipulation, by the Omega Corporation, but in the end it's all
put down to bad workmanship. I was preparing myself to find out why
the Omega Corporation would rig their ship to blow up and program their
AI to turn everyone into cyborgs, dagnabbit.
What I really don't get is why the crew would go back to sleep for
another thousand years after the first crisis. Wouldn't they, shouldn't
they wander around the ship and check everything properly right then
instead of leaving it for another millennium? Did the story actually
need those few pages of padding? Does the AI actually need another thousand
years to start experimenting with the humans? Especially given how quickly
the human parts of its cyborgs would start rotting--and moreover, the
idea of mechanical parts lasting millennia without degrading is pushing
it a bit. But anyway.
The bulk of the novella, some sixty or seventy pages, is taken up with
the crew's fight for survival--this is the story Brown wants
to tell. These pages are lovingly adorned with grue and gore, and some
fancifully grotesque "first attempt" cyborgs. Again, echoes of the blockbuster.
This pacy action material actually works better than the more psychological
stuff, when the cyborgs start trying to persuade the crew into submission
rather than just shooting at them. I'll just say it's hard to believe
someone who says "Really, I'm so much better off this way!" when the
back of their head is missing and they're dribbling WD40, and leave
it at that.
It's hard to see how you could give this grim tale anything other than
a downbeat ending; Brown's happy ending appears straight out of a hat
anyway, but seems all the more false in the light of what's gone before.
At the end of the day, I'm just not convinced by Approaching Omega--it
may well appeal to lovers of blood-soaked action fare, but it doesn't
have much else to offer.
Elsewhere in infinity plus: