(HarperCollins Voyager, £5.99, 700 pages, paperback; published
There's nothing more irritating to me than reading a good book
all the way through, then realising that it's the last in a series.
Happily for me then, Neverness describes the events leading
up to David Zindell's Requiem for Homo Sapiens trilogy.
Let me make no bones about Zindell's writing. It is superb.
In attempts to create plausible future societies, many authors
resort to cliché or give in to the temptation to caricature
present-day social structures. Zindell just dumped the whole lot
in the bin and set about building a cohesive whole where vocations
like akashics, harijan, scryers, tinkers, cetics, wormrunners
and warrior-poets have replaced the familiar professions of today.
Yet we are soon so involved that the initial unfamiliarity is
lost and we are swept along with the story.
The majority of the technology involved in the books (yes, I've
now been through them all) is treated well, with emphasis being
placed on the craftsmanship or elegance of a device, rather than
the "gosh-wow-look-what-this-does" approach -- just
as we treat hi-fis, cars, microwaves and so on today. Zindell
uses this to illustrate how far apart the professions have grown,
with no knowledge passing between them. His only in-depth treatment
of the use of a technology is in describing how a pilot of a lightship
traverses the galaxy from star to star, with all its strange geometry
and mathematics. Without this, a lot of the impact of the craft
of a pilot, and therefore its dangers, would be lost. For anyone
put off SF by interminable chapters describing anti-gravity/wormholes/time
machines/alien biology, this book is an ideal way to get into the field.
In a galaxy that includes insane computer "gods" the
size of star systems, bizarre religious sects that worship death
and poetry, men who have so altered their DNA across centuries
as to be unrecognisable to ordinary humans, and a strange wavefront
of exploding stars called "the Vild" which threatens
to destroy the majority of humanity, we focus on the life of a
young graduate pilot, Mallory Ringess, on the planet of Icefall,
in the city of Neverness.
The overall story is huge and deeply complex, and leads, ultimately,
to a quest for the meaning of life. Corny it may be as subject
matter, but Zindell's almost spiritual handling of the revelations,
as Mallory and his friends journey toward a deeper understanding
of the universe and themselves, is something to behold. The canvas
upon which the action takes place is masterfully drawn; there
are hints of greater powers in the galaxy, intriguing glimpses
into the lives of alien races, the descriptions of the city of
Neverness itself are superb and the characterisations are rich
Neverness is told in the first person from the perspective
of Mallory himself. He's a young, impetuous, and sometimes absolutely
infuriating man, yet Zindell has the reader empathising with him
as he goes through a succession of physical and mental trials.
In fact, even when the idiot has dug himself into such a big hole
that he frankly deserves what's coming, you still feel a rueful
kinship with him. Brutally honest, brave, egotistical and often
plain stupid, Mallory's flaws are held up for all to see, and
in him Zindell has created a believable protagonist.
Neverness is a very human story, set in a future where
mankind has changed, yet some truths still seem the same. In battling
with these forces Zindell, through Mallory, holds out hope for
something more than a hand-to-mouth existence for humanity, without
succumbing to over-the-top optimism. A fine, and very absorbing,
Review by Mark Spencer.
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