Customer Review

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sequels can be better than originals, 6 Feb 2008
This review is from: Across Realtime (Mass Market Paperback)
A Fire Upon the Deep and A Deepness in the Sky were about my favourite 2 space operas of the preceding 10 years. Not that Vinge's publishers showed much gratitude, doing their best to deceive the reader about the nature of Across Realtime. The UK edition has no blurb, nothing to indicate that the book is made up of 2 separate books, and unbelievably, several cover quotes that I think relate to a different book. Some publishers (Gollancz in this case) are absolutely shameless.

Book one of Across Realtime, The Peace War, starts in the late 20th century with a space plane observing suspicious happenings at a California military base, then leaps forward several decades. In the interim, plagues have wiped out much of humanity, and the Peace Authority is the essential ruler of the world, largely through the control of the most significant recent invention, the Bobbler. This encases a sphere of almost any size in an impenetrable silver field within which time does not pass. It's a brilliant and very plot-friendly concept, full of tactical, social and ethical implications. The Peace War is a Star Wars-type tale, ie oppressive empire v plucky rebels (the Tinkers) who are led by a man whose mistakes did much to create the Authority in the first place, plus his naive apprentice. Not that Wili Washendon, from whose perspective we usually see events, is much like Luke Skywalker. A refugee criminal from an independent New Mexico, he goes through the usual rebellious phase before dedicating himself to the plans of the Tinkers. It's a very clear goodies and baddies setup, and there's never much doubt about who is going to win.

I never warmed to the 'Goodies' here, and was never gripped by the plot. Vinge takes too long setting it up and it sags intermittently thereafter. I don't know if Vinge is from California, where most of the action is set, but this may explain why there's too much local colour. Another problem for me may be the future society Vinge depicts, which tastes too American and right wing. Government is presented as intrinsically bad, independent frontiersmen are intrinsically good. I think not.

I wouldn't have read Book 2, Marooned in Realtime, if I'd had to buy it separately, but I'm so glad I did; it's one of my favourite books and maybe justifies the way Gollancz have packaged these novels. It was written 2 years later, and Vinge seems to have matured greatly as a writer in the interim.

50 million years have gone by since The Peace War, and the 100 or so remaining humans who have been bobbling throught the millenia have been brought together by Yelen and Marta Korolev, the most powerful of the few 'high-techs' to have brought their equipment with them through time, and the only ones with a coherent plan for rebuilding the race. Except that early on Marta is murdered and her more stolid partner is left to implement their shared plans, while tasking 21st century detective WW Brierson to find the murderer.

This is another of the classic plots, a whodunnit within a sealed society, with few suspects. Marta's murder is peculiarly touching, she has been marooned outside all the bobbles, which aren't scheduled to reopen for 100 years, and though she has time to accomplish a great deal, including 40 years of diaries, old age, injury and wild animals claim her before she can complete a plan to save herself. The killer must be another high-tech, so Brierson must investigate Yelen plus 7 others, including Della Lu, a holdover from the first book where she was one of the better characters. She's even more interesting here, having spent so much time exploring deep space in the meantime as to seem less than human.

The setting and context are every bit as good as the well-paced murder plot. Again bobbling has much to do with it. Brierson and Della Lu are heroes of each other's pasts! Brierson still grieves for the family he lost when he was involuntarily bobbled, and knows the criminal who did it is likely to be among the other survivors. Some humans want to bobble into the far future see the end of geological history. Others accept the need to rebuild humanity here and now but fear having to give birth early and often. And that isn't all. Vinge has thought about the world and fauna of 50 million years in the future and makes good use of it, Dougal Dixon gets a credit as a result. And above all, what has happened to the rest of humanity? This is the first time I've seen Vinge's 'singularity' theory, a haunting backdrop here, but central to much of his other work.

Marooned in Realtime is a superb novel. Addictive, exciting, brimming with accessible brain food and good characters, strong plotting and clever revelations. And when justice is served, it's brilliantly ghoulish. It's a book that keeps broadening its horizons and taking off in new directions, without ever losing focus. And all in 250 pages. Buy it now, and tell all your friends just how good it is once you've finished!
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