Thursday, January 8, 2009

Book Review: Implied Spaces


Walter Jon Williams is one of the most amazing SF writers to never win a Hugo (he's been nominated 5 times!). He's written in countless different genres, each time delivering something that takes a popular sci-fi conceit of the day and turns it on its head. Implied Spaces, released last year, is no exception, this time tackling the ever popular singularity.

I was first introduced to WJW via his "Praxis" trilogy, perhaps the finest 3-part hard sci-fi space opera I've ever read. But he's far outdone himself with this novel. Admittedly, I haven't read much of his full-length novels, but plenty of his short works. The man's imagination simply knows no bounds!

In Implied Spaces, mankind has advanced to the point of functional immortality, backing up their consciousness on a regular basis and downloading into cloned bodies at the onset of disease, old age, or ultimately death. We've progressed to the point where the known universe has no hold over us, and much of mankind now lives in multiple created, or "pocket," universes accessed via man made wormholes. Everything is overseen by eleven planet-sized computer intelligences orbiting and harnessing our Sun for the energy to keep the multiverses operational.

Enter Aristide -- scientist, swordsman, and poet rolled into one like a ronin of old. He strolls the world of Midgarth at the start of the novel, scouring the medieval-themed artificial universe in study of "squinches," the accidental afterthoughts implied by the architectural designs of the pocket 'verses. Implied spaces are the "in-between" spots that hold designs together, as Aristide himself explains to a female acquaintance at one point. If you create mountains by the sea on a particular world, the implied space in this case is the stretch of desert that lies *between* the cliffs and the ocean. A stretch of land that was not specifically designed to be there, but which mathematically must exist in order for the created world to have coherence. By extension, squinches are the accidental fauna and flora that occupy these implied spaces. In Midgarth's example, the spiders and ants that have invaded the desert.

Such are the heady and high-concept ideas that are flung at you almost straight out the gate. The plot starts off as a tepid mid-Eastern fantasy adventure ala Arabian Nights, but it's not long before the reader realizes there is more to this Aristide and the weird, magical world we find him in. When the curtain is eventually withdrawn in chapter 3, it's to reveal a larger universe beyond; a universe that is the epitome of all the far-future sci-fi tropes you've ever read. The aforementioned immortality; giant matrioshka arrays; and even swarming armies of nanobots to make any self-respecting human think twice about starting trouble -- even if your soul *is* backed up on the solar system's hard drive.

I admit that it was difficult for me to wrap my brain around much of the hard science that bolsters the softer space-operish trappings of the plot. There is a lot of talk about wormhole physics, AI gestalts, and of course the aforementioned singularity -- the point in mankind's future where technological advances are no longer distinguishable from magic, and where human imagination is no longer restrained by the limits of our biology.

Implied Spaces has all this and more! At only 265 pages, it's a very brief novel, albeit dense with quantum mechanics and existential theory. Yet it wasn't long before I found myself thoroughly engrossed in the entertaining prose and witticisms proffered by the protagonist and his talking cat. Oh, did I not mention the talking cat? The feline that is really the real-world avatar of the vast computer intelligence, Endora? Silly me. But you see, that's the type of weird Walter Jon Williams traffics in when he writes a novel such as this.

Oh, and you don't even want me to get into the uber-cool wormhole-summoning broadsword Aristide calls "Tecmessa," which never leaves his side. With it he banishes his enemies to the sinfully boring netherworld he designed himself, which is more Roman Elysium in theme rather than Dante's Inferno. Trust me, you have to read the book to understand.

And read this you should. Oh, definitely. Implied Spaces was a delightful treat for me over my holiday break. And I daresay I learned a ton about just how far you can take a Big Idea in one's novel and truly have fun with it. Someday, I want to be just like Walter Jon Williams. In the meantime, I'll remain a loyal reader of his bizarre, but always entertaining, futures.

Rating: A

3 comments:

Kim Kasch said...

I guess Walter Jon Williams could commiserate with Susan Lucci of Erica Kane fame.

Ashe Hunt said...

Yeah, now it's my turn to read it.

David Batista said...

Yeah, I so want him to win this year for this book. I'm sure he'll get nominated at least. And maybe for the Nebula as well.

I'm also glad to see a small imprint like Night Shade Books getting some big names on their roster and heavy-hitting, high concept novels out on the market.

Who says sci-fi is dying?

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