1/8/2010. Contributed by Gareth D Jones
pub: Gollancz. 407 page enlarged paperback. Price: £12.99 (UK only). ISBN: 978-0-575-08532-9.
check out website: www.orionbooks.co.uk
'Absorption' is the first volume of 'Ragnarok', a new space opera trilogy by John Meaney, that takes us from a thousand years in the past to half a billion years in the future with several stops in between. It's the kind of complex plot that means you have to pay attention, with multiple timelines and characters who interact only marginally. Very quickly, the subtle clues that link these different scenarios start to appear, leading to more and more 'a-ha!' moments when you suddenly make a connection. This makes it a very satisfying read, paying back the investment in time with interest.
A tribe of Vikings take us farthest into the past, mixing myths and legends with hunting and sorcery. From the start, I was looking for the clues that would give an SFnal explanation for the mysticism. John Meaney cleverly overlays the viewpoints of his characters from different time periods so that even when the explanations start to appear, our Viking Ulfr still maintains his pre-industrial innocence.
Munich in the 1920s and 30s is the home of Gavriela Wolf, who shares the unnerving ability of the other main characters to see a mysterious blackness that surrounds various unsavoury characters. The only point I did not like about the book appears in this time-frame: the use of Hitler as one of the characters affected by this dark force. Two reasons I dislike this: firstly, Hitler seems like a too-obvious and over-used character to be included. Secondly, I don't feel that he needs to be given any excuse for his actions, even in fiction.
A twenty-second century exploratory ship makes contact with a sentient bear-like species who communicate via scent. The development of communication between the species is only covered briefly, but is well thought out. It was unclear for quite a while how this was to fit in to the plot, but gradually the links appeared-
A large portion of the narrative takes place on the planet Fulgor six centuries from now. It is here that the author has really put his effort into creating a unique society truly different from our own, while still peopled with recognisable characters and motivations. There are some mind-bending concepts involving mu-space, morphing buildings, enhanced neural networks and a fabulously interconnected society. It is also here that much of the drama and intrigue occurs, giving clues to occurrences in the other time zones.
Half a billion year later, on the moon, things are starting to come together. It is here, I suspect, that future volumes will fully explain the ramification of what 'Absorption' has laid down.
This is a great volume of space opera and the plot builds up to such an extent that by the end I was thoroughly engrossed in the world that John Meaney has created. I look forward to the rest of the trilogy.
Gareth D. Jones
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