Top positive review
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Good SF ideas; sense of wonder; beautiful writing style; a plot that makes sense.
on 5 October 2015
There are three volumes, of which this is the first, but this is one long novel. I found it to be money and time well spent.
This is a far future tale set in what is almost a post-scarcity economy: humans have immortality thanks to mind recording; vast energy and computational resources; can tailor their sensory experiences however they wish; and can choose between living in their own invented universes, the real world, or anything in between. But the laws of economics still apply: the author realises that there is still scarcity of human effort and attention. Phaethon, the protagonist, is attempting to achieve “deeds of renown, without peer”, and it is a struggle.
There is artificial intelligence, the most advanced of which are self-aware computers called Sophotechs who have intelligence vastly superior to humans, and it is possible to argue that the existence of these would make humans redundant. But the novel constructs some clever economics that avoid this problem and give meaning to people's lives. It also constructs some unique and fascinating solutions to the problem of policing such a free society, and these solutions drive the plot along in a self-consistent way.
Instead of uniformity or warring factions, Mr. Wright has constructed a society where multiple alternate lifestyles exist in harmony, giving us a colourful and interesting world. Modification of one’s own memories is common practice, and this device is used to add intrigue. How does one tell what is real when one’s perceptions and memories may be altered? The answer is that since reality is objective, it is a matter of looking at the evidence and using reason. This is a work of rationalist fiction. There are no red-herrings. It is possible for the reader to think through and work out what is going on. There are multiple levels of deception at times as the protagonist uncovers deeper and deeper levels of truth. But it all makes sense in the end. Everything is neatly wrapped up.
Mr. Wright has managed to construct a perfect world and still have an exciting plot within it.
All in all, this is a story rich in ideas, set in a consistent and well thought out universe. Its plot concerns civilisation-changing events caused by the grand deeds of individuals. It is a long novel but the pacing is right. Enough words are spent lingering over details, arguments and reasoning, the writing erudite and humorous, but not too many words: events happen; the plot shifts along.