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Monday, February 11, 2008

"Singularity's Ring" by Paul Melko

Order “Singularity’s RingHERE

Although a fairly common theme in science fiction literature, the Singularity was a concept that I wasn’t familiar with until I read Josh Conviser’sEmpyre” (Reviewed HERE). While the specifics vary a bit, the Singularity is essentially a hypothetical point in the future—marked by an acceleration of technological progress—where humanity, machines, or both, have ascended to a whole new level of awareness. In Paul Melko’s wonderful debut novel, “Singularity’s Ring”, the author explores life on Earth after a Singularity occurs…

Over thirty years ago, the Community—six billion people in communion as one, a “synergistic human-machine intelligence”—achieved their goal of Exodus and transcended. Following the Gene Wars, peace and stability was restored by the Overgovernment, with the population now numbering under half a billion and divided between normal humans—“singletons”—and the pods, a biological experiment of the Community who have become the planet’s dominant life forms. Born in artificial wombs and raised in crèches, pod members are genetically engineered humans that can share thoughts, emotions & memories through pheromone glands, which allows groupings of two, three, four, or five bonded individuals to think and act as a single entity. Their motto: “The consensus of one is always false.”

In “Singularity’s Ring”, the story focuses on one pod in particular, a quintet—considered a rarity in pod society—named Apollo Papadopulos. A student, Apollo is in the fourth state of their education and is competing against other pods for the right to captain the starship Consensus. After a few near-death experiences involving avalanches, the last surviving member of the CommunityMalcom Leto, and a sabotaged spacesled, the quintet begins to suspect a deadly conspiracy. The truth though is far more terrible and has something to do with anti-Ring military factions, bioengineered pod bears, the Ring itself—a man-made space station that orbits the Earth’s equator—Exodus, their mentor Mother Redd, and Leto who is trying to establish a second Community.

By itself, the plot is fairly straightforward, so what makes “Singularity’s Ring” so unique is the method by which Paul Melko tells the story. Basically, the novel is told through the point-of-view of the quintet Apollo Papadopulos. Now pods may just be clusters made up of human beings, but the way they think and act is completely different from us ‘singletons’, so it’s almost like an alien entity is narrating the book. So, to help readers understand the distinctive nature of a pod, the first five chapters rotate between all five members of Apollo whose first-person perspectives illustrate each individual’s exclusive talents & characteristics. For instance, Strom is the strength of the group and tends to be less vocal and more heroic. Meda is the Interface, the voice of the pod. Moira, Meda’s identical twin, is the group’s moral compass. Quant is an autistic whose specialty is understanding mathematics—she also zones out a lot and can be quite rebellious. And lastly, Manuel is blessed with prehensile feet—he has four opposable thumbs—and a superior memory. Together, they make up Apollo Papadopulos and once we’re introduced to all five podmates and their relationship with one another, the novel switches to a group viewpoint. By then, readers should be intimately familiar with pod culture, which is just a brilliantly executed and original concept.

Negatively, I had very few complaints with “Singularity’s Ring”. In fact, I wouldn’t even call them complaints; more like personal desires. For example, I wanted to learn more about the Community, the Gene Wars, the Ring, and the Rift; information which was kept to a minimum. Also, I thought it would have been extremely interesting if the author had written from Malcom Leto’s POV, being that he woke up from suspended animation only to discover that he was the last of his kind. Finally, I wish the book had different cover art—in my opinion, an out of the ordinary book like “Singularity’s Ring” deserves out of the ordinary artwork…

Of other note were the chapters, which felt a bit long and seemed almost episodic. Of course there was a reason for that. When researching Paul Melko’s background, I learned that he’s written over
twenty short stories, three of which—“Singletons In Love”, “The Summer of the Seven”—are set in the same universe as “Singularity’s Ring” including “Strength Alone” which is actually the first chapter in the book. So, that kind of explains why some of the chapters were structured like short stories. It also explains why the prose, pacing, and plotting felt so accomplished for a first novel :)

Speaking of which, between the book’s fascinating concepts, the unique protagonist in Apollo Papadopulos, and Paul’s significant writing skills & imagination, “Singularity’s Ring” was just as impressive as any debut that I’ve read so far in 2008 and I can easily see why it was chosen as a
Sci Fi Essentials Book. In short, I really, really liked Paul Melko’sSingularity’s Ring” and I hope readers will take notice of this special novel…

NOTE:Singularity’s Ring” is a standalone book, and while there is room for the story to continue in future volumes, Paul Melko’s next project is an expansion of his short story “The Walls of the Universe”—A teenager loses his place in his world to a version of himself from another universe and struggles to get his life back…

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

After reading and enjoying several of Mr. Melko's short stories including the opening chapter of this one, I was eagerly waiting for this book and while it's fast and readable, I was somewhat disappointed since it's a very light novel, very YA and good for introduction to sf, but not a major groundbreaking one that would establish Mr. Melko as someone to watch.

I read it very fast in about 2 hours and posted my thoughts on sffworld and I will check out Mr. Melko's next novel, but it brings nothing new to an experienced sf reader the multiple humans are much more interesting in T. Daniel Metaplanetary and even in P. Hamilton's Void, the Singularity ring is much better done by D. Simmons in Ilium...

Though as a good introduction to sf this book will do excellently.

On the other hand The Monsters of Templeton was a great book, and I owe many thanks to the great review here for discovering it

Liviu

Robert said...

Liviu, thanks for the comments! Since I haven't read any of Melko's short stories, I can't compare the novel to them, but I can understand the 'light' remarks. I wouldn't say that the book was YA, but it is very accessible, and that's one reason why I really liked it. It was very easy for me to get involved with the story and I also finished the book quite quickly, though nowhere near your two hours ;)

Unfortunately, I haven't read Simmons' "Ilium" or the other trademark SF out there that explores a singularity, but I don't think that was the main focus of the book...the pods were, and from that angle, I really loved the concept. Once again, I haven't read "Metaplanetary", and I can see where you're coming from regarding the multiple humans in "The Dreaming Void" being more interesting, but in the latter that was just more of a subplot whereas here in "Singularity's Ring" the entire novel explores pod culture.

I don't know, maybe it's because I haven't read enough science fiction, but I really enjoyed this book :)

At least you and I agreed on "The Monsters of Templeton" :D

Anonymous said...

I am interested to see where Mr. Melko goes next with his SF. I read the story on which the next book is based, but as with this one there is a lot of scope for expansion...

In general P. Melko is an author that I read any short fiction I come upon and there are several such where I like their short fiction a lot but I am very underwhelmed by their novels, most notable being C. Stross and E. Bear - though for Mr. Melko or for J. Lake for that matter is too early to say after one novel that I liked but not as much as I expected. Another great SFF short story author that sold (I think) a debut that I have big expectations for is P. Bacigalupi.

Tony Daniel is also a great short story writer. Two of the best sff stories I've ever read are available free at InfinityPlus "Life on the Moon" and "A Dry, Quiet War"
Metaplanetary was an excellent series first novel with lots of cool concepts, not least "manifolds" - multiple humans, and semi-embodied AI's that marry humans and have children by them, though there is a strong anti-AI prejudice and concentration camps for AI's are formed at some point and you get to find out how AI's can be tortured and is really chilling; unfortunately the second novel Superluminal was weaker and tanked so the third got canned by the publisher, but it seems that Mr. Daniel is making a comeback. His story In the Valley of the Gardens was the best one in a very, very strong New Space Opera anthology (Dozois/Strahan 2007)

Liviu

Robert said...

I admit that I don't read very much short fiction, which is something I need to remedy because it sounds like I'm missing out on a lot of good stuff :)As far as Elizabeth Bear, I've only read a couple of novels which I've really enjoyed, and just one short story by Jay Lake though I'm hoping to read "Mainspring" and "Escapement" back-to-back.

I'm assuming the Tony Daniel you're talking about is different from the Tony Daniel I'm familiar with who is a comic book artist ;) And thanks for the heads up on Bacigalupi...

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