Singularity's Ring is Paul Melko's début novel, a science-fictional story of a not-too-distant future where Earth's population is now much less than a billion, and many live in poverty. What's worse is that all this has happened after 90% of humanity has transcended (which may or may not mean that they have all gone and died; they're certainly not around anymore, anyway), leaving the world crippled. Transcension occurred when the 6 billion people known as the Community, in a huge "communion as one", via the machine intelligence (for example, the huge Ring circling the Earth), moved on to the next plane of existence -- or died -- or both.
Er, but just what is a Singularity? There are a lot of terms in SF that are thrown about, but I'm sure a lot of people (myself included) don't always fully understand them, so forgive the small recap. The concept of a Singularity is a fairly common thing, in SF and "real science", but something I didn't understand properly until a few years ago. Anyway, a Singularity (the term was coined by Vernor Vinge) is the technological creation of smarter-than-human intelligence. AI is heading this way, as is brain augmentation (cool!), and, my favourite, ultra-high-resolution brain scans followed by computer emulation, which has a whole lot of potential ... but I digress.
In the 30 years that followed, and the aftermath of the Gene Wars, a new world order, the Overgovernment, exists. The majority of humans are genetically enhanced -- to the degree that any that aren't are frowned upon, scorned, and (occasionally) pitied...
Apollo Papadopulos is a pod. Say the word "pod" in SF circles and you get instant images of green goo and ugly 1930s aliens hatching out of people -- or, if you're not twisted like me, something you step into to be disintegrated and put back together again somewhere else, to the vexation of time and space. But a pod, in Singularity's Ring is not something icky green or Faster Than Light, it is an entity, a group identity, a mind shared by a group of humans linked together, sharing emotions and thoughts -- even memories -- and acting as one person, as a result of some of those genetic enhancements previously mentioned.
Five things into one [beat] is bad enough in music, but I was rather worried about how Melko would manage to make the reader feel any attachment to the characters if they're all compressed into one... Well, in short: they're not. Of the quintet that forms the pod known as Apollo, each has their own first person chapter, before it switches to a group narrative once we've got to know all the characters. And it really works. Apart from establishing the relationship with each character, and getting us ready for the group ones, it also successfully creates a feeling of something both familiar and unfamiliar, something alien yet human.
Although, Paul Melko is a very well respected short story writer, I don't think Singularity's Ring is the novel that is going to prove his major breakthrough. I enjoyed it a lot, but it was quite a gentle read, with definite Young Adult overtones -- not to say that that is a bad thing; one of the things I like about novels like that is that they are accessible and very easy to get sucked into -- is not quite the tour de force that would mark Mr. Melko as one of the new guard. A good read, nonetheless, and I see no reason why, just because it has certain YA elements, people shouldn't enjoy it. For those who are often not keen to read science fiction, I think it's a good starting place. A very good book, and an excellent début.