(Eos, $25.95, 480 pages, hardcover, May 2004.)
Superluminal by Tony Daniel has all of these
and more in its near seventy pages of supporting material.
are certain cues you can take from the structure of a book that point
toward what you might expect in its content (any actual matching results
when using this technique are purely coincidental, but this still provides
a good way to introduce this review). A dramatis persona list usually
means you'll be having to juggle numerous families, clans, characters
and relationships. A glossary says you'll be doing a lot flipping back
and forth until you've become familiar with some alien language. And
an appendix often implies a book that will attempt extremely thorough
Superluminal is the sequel to Daniel's well received novel Metaplanetary
as well as the middle novel of a trilogy (or more). It follows the effects
of an interplanetary civil war upon numerous characters, some who live
in the Met -- a web of cables connected in space, keeping the solar
system together as a community (a sort of solar system internet that
a person can upload him/herself into). The reader travels throughout
the Met and the solar system, watching education on Mercury and battle
on Io and all points in between, as numerous characters attempt to find
their own places to stake out.
If you noticed that I never mentioned a specific character in the above
description, well, that does point to my biggest problem with the book.
Once again, the evil spectre of character development -- or, rather,
its lack -- creeps into one of my reviews. And here it is caused by
a fascinating situation. See, the very things that make Superluminal
a thrilling read are also the very things that ruin it.
Tony Daniel has put together one of the most detailed, well thought-out
universes I have ever read. The world-building presented here is astonishing.
Not only does Daniel have an abundance of intricate ideas in place,
but he considers, in great detail, the implications of these technologies
upon the daily lives of people. This is China Mieville meets David Brin.
There are Large Array Personalities (LAPs) -- people who have made
multiple copies of themselves to exist simultaneously across the Met.
There is the whole concept, use and misuse of grist -- the nanotech
that permits near-instantaneous communication across the Met. There
is a manifold -- a LAP of LAPs. And it goes on and on and on. It can
all be a bit overwhelming at first. However, any reader who sticks with
it will be well rewarded in the long run. I have not come across a novel
as idea-packed as this one in a long time.
Unfortunately (as I pointed out earlier), this strength of the novel
is also its downfall. For, in the end, this novel is nothing more than
the complexity of these ideas. For many readers, that will be enough.
For me, however, I needed characters.
Now, before you kind Daniel fans out there get all defensive, let me
say this: Tony Daniel can write excellent characters. The problem
is that he buries these people under so much tech that the human element
is near-invisible. Perhaps that's his point, but it doesn't seem to
be. And, regardless of his intent, it made for a dragging read. Every
time something interesting would happen to a character (like, you know,
a conflict), the action would invariably be halted by further in-depth
explanations of the complex world the author has created. Unlike some
writers, however, Daniel does not appear to be doing this in an attempt
to infodump every detail he's thought up (after all, he put in an enormous
set of appendices). Instead, the characters were victims of Daniel's
imagination. After all, how can he write a romantic scene between a
woman and an LAP without explaining all about the LAP. It's a catch-22.
And yet other writers manage to pull off this crazy high-wire act.
In fact, that is what we readers demand. We want it all and, since we
have experienced it in the past, we are less forgiving in the present.
I should point out that I have not read Metaplanetary. It is
possible that these characters have more to offer when placed within
the context of the first book; however, this is hardly a valid excuse.
A novel should work as a novel in its own right.
Tony Daniel's novel Superluminal is an astounding achievement
in world-building that crushes its characters under this incredible
weight. He is a talented writer, and for the idea factor alone I recommend
taking a look at his work. Certainly anyone interested in singularity-type
stories will find this fascinating stuff. Start with Metaplanetary,
though, and, if it gives you what you want, you'll dig Superluminal
as well. If it doesn't, well, no amount of supporting material will
really matter then, will it?
Elsewhere in infinity plus: