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Heaven's Reach by David Brin (Orbit, £17.99, 571 pages, hardback. Published 1998.)

In my review here of Infinity's Shore a few months ago, I called David Brin a right bastard for spinning out the Uplift saga of the Earth starship Streaker over so many years, keeping all us fans waiting for so long with cliffhanger endings. Well, he does finally deliver with Heaven's Reach. But he can't stay away from cliffhangers, though instead of leaving the entire book on one big cliffhanger, he supplies dozens of them throughout the novel, virtually at the end of every section. The guy has an absolute mania for plotting. But he delivers in a big way, supplying enough 'gosh, wow, sense-of-wonder!' moments in this one book to last an average SF author a lifetime.

As with Infinity's Shore, Heaven's Reach opens exactly where the last book left off, then starts to twist, tumble and turn through a series of plot gymnastics that Nadia Comaneci would have had difficulties negotiating in her prime. Brin never lets up on the reader throughout the book, just throwing one goddamned thing after another into the storyline until your head spins. Take it from me, the book is jam-packed with incidents like no other since Dan Simmon's first two Hyperion books. Brin makes sure the reader arrives at the end breathless and more than a little emotionally burnt out. Satisfaction is there, too, that Heaven's Reach supplies a good closure to the main story of Streaker, though there are enough loose ends to fill a third trilogy of books, if Brin so wishes.

The novel is organised in a similar fashion to the earlier parts of the trilogy, with a multiplicity of character points of view from which the larger overall picture emerges. This plot device seems to work better than in the previous books, as the sections seem to be a bit longer, and more contiguous in nature. There are not quite so many character points of view used, so it is not as confusing and memory taxing as Infinity's Shore. What emerges instead is a picture of Brin's universe which is far more complex than previously indicated, and which displays a grasp of the staggering possibilities for life in the Universe as a whole. Brin thinks B-I-G, and communicates very effectively the immensity of space and time in which his galactic civilisation operates. Overall, this second trio (more correct than trilogy, since in real terms they are as much one story in three volumes as Lord of the Rings is) of Uplift books more than fulfills the promise of the earlier works.

Review by John D Owen.

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© John D Owen 5 September 1998