Primary Inversion (Saga of the Skolian Empire (Paperback)) Paperback – 15 May 1996
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"Catherine Asaro brings the feel of science back into science fiction. Her ftl drive, which rotates a ship around the lightspeed singularity, is based on pleasant mathematical concepts. Fourteen-year-olds who read this book will probably go out and build starship when they are twenty-seven."--Donald M. Kingsbury "In an unusually masterful first novel, physicist Asaro combines hard speculative science and first-rate storytelling to look at the galaxy's distant future...Asaro innovatively blends computer technology and telepathy into the electrifying, action-rich drama she creates. This is one of the best SF first novels in years."--"Booklist" --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
About the Author
Catherine Asaro received a doctorate in physics from Harvard University, has published a number of papers on theoretical physics and was a physics professor until 1990, when she established Molecudyne Research. A former ballerina, she has performed with ballets and in musicals on both coasts. She lives with her husband and daughter in Columbia, Maryland.
Top Customer Reviews
Soz is not only telepathic, but also a bioengineered psi warrior pilot – thus on all fronts she seems to inspire fear rather than love. She’s long lived, and has a history behind her that brings much depth to the character, and the reader is able to read much into her actions as a result.
Jaibroil Highton is the Highton heir to the Traders – enemies of the Skolian empire. When Soz and Jaiobriol first meet, they find they are able to make the rare psi bond of true Rhon – essentially they are enemies, but the only true match for each other.
Asaro doesn’t make it easy for Soz, who is conflicted by many loyalties and also by her own drives, desires and ambitions. Ultimately events work around her until she feels she has no choice but to act, although the cost is high. By the end of the book, she has lost as much as she has gained.
A strong, complex, character driven novel with much in it as a vision of the future. The scientific elements are well thought out and well drawn, although I did get a little lost in the science of it from time to time. Nevertheless, a must for any Psi-Fi (ha!) reader
She has an MA in physics from Harvard and her publications include - "Complex speeds and special relativity," Catherine Asaro, Am. Jour. Phys. April 1996
So, I think I'll read the space propulsion section of the book more carefully next time around - because this is a book that would repay a second reading even without the physics.
The novel has a few minor glitches in the writing style, especially early on when there's rather more 'telling' than 'showing'. This soon smooths out a lot, and besides, it was her first novel.
This novel shows us a complex future in which empathic abilities are closely tied into the military us of faster than light craft. This creates a cruelly ironic world where the people necessary to be the really high-tech military are also those who most feel the pain of another person's death.
Asaro works this neatly into her work and this alone would make a good novel. However, what I really enjoyed was that she wrote a romance that avoids the clichés. There was a point early on where I groaned and thought: "Oh Lord, standard romance cliche number four coming up - and it didn't happen!" I found the avoidance of the clichés greatly increased my enjoyment of the book as I was unable to predict what would happen next.
This is a book that I'll happily recommend to anyone who wants hard SF with a dash of romance.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
There are essentially 3 civilizations in Asaro's future universe. The Allied Worlds are those established by humans from Earth. The Skolian Empire and the Eubians (the Trader Empire) are remnants of another human civilization (the Raylicon Empire) that left Earth long ago and established a presence in the stars. When the Allied humans left Earth to explore the universe, they were suprised to find that humans were already there.
Allied humans are much like you and me. Skolians, however, are generally empaths, and their civilization is based on a royal family with exceptionally strong empathetic abilities. They are "psions", who can read emotion almost as well as communicating with words. The Eubians (or Traders) literally derive pleasure from the pain of a psion, who transmits the emotion and amplifies it like an antenna. Some of the Eubians are pretty nasty in their taste for the pain of their Skolian pleasure slaves. Other Eubians, however, aren't so bad.
The Skolians and Eubians are always either on the verge of war or are at war, and the Allieds try to be neutral.
This book, in particular, deals with one Skolian heir who is admirable in the way that she is a strong and amazingly capble woman. Sauscony Valdoria (or "Soz"), heir to the Skolian throne, is a Jag pilot, an elite fighter group composed entirely of highly empathetic psions. Soz can deal out some serious butt-whoopin' when she needs to, but her personality is more of an INFP for those of you familiar with the Myers-Briggss personality test. Soz is an introverted, intuitive, feeling and perceiving person who is exceptionally intelligent. The plot is well written and intriguing.
"Inversion" is a concept developed by Catherine Asaro to account for rapid transit through large distances in space; a possible solution to the problem of time dilation. Einstein kind of put a stick in the mud when, in 1905, he told everyone that Special Relativity wrote in a universal speed limit at ~3x10^8 m/s, citing anyone caught travelling near this speed with a significant time penalty. Some authors embrace time dilation, like Poul Anderson in "Tau Zero" and Joe Haldeman in "The Forever War". Others find ways around it, like Gene Roddenberry in the "Star Trek" series. Other authors ignore it altogether. The neat thing about Asaro's solution, however, is that it is mathematically explicit, even if it is not possible by today's understanding of real and imaginary numbers and their role in real space.
-- For the reader who is not fond of math, skip this paragraph. For everyone else, read on -- All numbers have a real and imaginary part, i.e., a+ib, where "a" is the real coordinate and "b" is the imaginary coordinate. "i" is the imaginary number i=sqrt(-1). In Einstein's equation for time dilation, if one simply makes a substitution "iV" for the velocity "V", one gets an i^2 term in the equation, which is simply "-1". This completely changes the behavior of Special Relativity. It breaks the speed limit, and time dilation can even become "time reduction". Similarly, length contraction becomes "length elongation", and the mass inflation term (defined in terms of momentum), actually becomes "mass reduction".
It's pretty neat how it all works out, actually. It would be to one's benefit to simply flip oneself out of real space and into imaginary space, and then hit the gas pedal. The faster you go, the lighter you get, and you can actually make time on the way. In fact, you could go back in time if you felt like it (if Hawking finds a way around the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics). With this simple mathematical trick, Asaro has opened up a science fiction can of worms, where she can put an infinite number of spins on a fundamental plot line.
That's not all Asaro came up with. Her background in chemical physics has given her the ability to take relevant real world problems and incorporate them into her fiction. Imagine Klein Bottles that maintain objects in imaginary space while being transported through real space. Quantum stasis fields that freeze all the atoms in an atomic state and hold them there for a finite time. An infinite information network that spans all of real space while only existing in imaginary space. This is neat stuff.
Perhaps the best thing about this book (and her other books) is that Asaro balances hard science fiction with a genuine effort to write about *people*. Catherine Asaro is a unique woman because she is not only a chemical physicist (Ph.D., Harvard), but also a ballerina. Her characters often show a similar duality. Some of her books are more romance novels than hard sci fi, but there are quite a few gems in this series. "Primary Inversion", "Radiant Seas", "The Moon's Shadow", and "Schism" all tell the story of Sauscony Valdoria and her kids, and these are some of her most "hard" sci fi novels. In addition, the story of Soz's brother, Kelric, is told in "The Last Hawk" and "Ascendant Sun", and both of these novels are equally entertaining.
Although PRIMARY INVERSION has its weaknesses, it was engaging enough to hold my interst throughout. For a first effort, it was promising. I will probably be reading more of Ms. Asaro's books. I think most scifi fans will find this an entertaining read.
I'll probably be blasted for not giving this book stellar ratings, but hey I'm trying to be helpful by critiquing good AND bad points. I was interested in Asaro's writing because of her background in physics and was hungry for new female science fiction writers. Unfortunately, the plot reeks of immaturity. Grossly adolescent, Sauscony, the older but so sexy heroine, reads like a female version of James T. Kirk whose "heartbender" (umm, shrink) asserts that she is incapable of being with an equal. Bagging little boys is fine, but even that was boring! The galaxy seems to be chock full of strapping Jagernauts, quivering barmaids, and gorgeous little college boys, and a line of Emperors surnamed "Qox". Oh baby, whose Qox is it.. Ur Qox baby! And for "puggings sake", do adults not swear like adults? This is like the Bold and the Beautiful in Space.
There are a few positive points that, with more time and training would have made this book digestable. The underlying technology is refreshingly real and captivating, the ftl drives and antimatter weapons for example. Empathic fighters have cybernetic implants that can block their victims dying screams. The notion of love at first sight between the two heirs would seem silly if not for the fact that they had engineered "Rhon" genes that create pheremones so potent, they rack their potential mates with primal lust (like genetic soulmates). I honestly have no qualms about mixing romance with SF, but I was hoping for a more depth in character, plot, etc. You won't get compelling themes on the human condition, or strangely unique aliens or strong memorable characters. Hopefully, after this first try, Asaro will churn out much better yarns with the hope that she will dump the vacuous romantic cliches, keep the clean prose and intelligent science, and come up with a stronger plot.
Primary Inversion (1995) is the first novel in the Skolian Imperialate series, but takes place rather later, following The Last Hawk in internal chronological sequence. In that novel, Keric crashed on Coba and became a Calanya. His fate was not known to the Skolians.
In this novel, in 2259 AD, Sauscony Valdoria is a Jagernaut Primary, a rank equivalent to Admiral, a Psion, and a member of the Ruby dynasty. Soz and her fellow cyberfighters, and empaths, have landed on Delos for R&R and are having a difficult time handling the fear of the population.
When they encounter a group of Eubian bodyguards, one invites Soz out for a drink, but this only initiates flashbacks to a time when Soz became a provider to a Highton Aristo while undercover in an intelligence operation. The Eubians, also known as Slave Traders, are stunted Psions who can only receive feelings of pain, but experience pleasure at the sensation. Thus, they are all sadists, basking in the pain of others, particularly the Rhon empaths, who generate stronger feelings of pain and hence are called providers for the intense pleasure they provide to the Aristos.
The Skolians sense that the Eubian is an Aristo in disquise, probably looking for providers to kidnap. They report the Eubian's presence to the local police and discover a fellow empath in the interpreter who takes their report. When the others leave, Soz stays behind to talk to the interpreter and he gives her a vintage book as a gift for confirming that he is an empath.
When Soz returns to the inn, she finds Rex, her Secondary, in a fey mood. He announces that he is going to retire and asks Soz to marry him. Soz agrees, but then Rex learns that their children cannot be part of the Ruby dynasty, since Rex lacks the recessive genes that allow the Ruby dynastic line to access the ancient controllers for the Skol-Net which links all human space with instantaneous communications. This reminder chills his desire to marry Soz, but he warms up again after re-consideration.
While walking around, Soz has a conversation with a little girl which triggers a connection in her memories: the Eubian didn't generate the usual empty feeling to her empathic talents that is characteristic of an Aristo. Soz investigates further and finds something very strange: an Aristo heir to the Eubian throne who is a full Psion.
This novel is full of strange ideas and viewpoints. Although the backstory is imparted in small doses, there is an immense history that looms in the background. Overall, this novel is confusing, but still a fun read, and the romantic aspects are just as well handled as the technological. Portions of this series have been published in Analog, yet the series has been praised in Romantic Times. An unusual combination that should happen more often.
Recommended for anyone who enjoys hard SF intermingled with a plot of political intrigue and romance.
-Arthur W. Jordin