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Friday, August 15, 2008

"Implied Spaces" by Walter Jon Williams

Order “Implied SpacesHERE
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Reviewed by Liviu C. Suciu:

INTRODUCTION: Walter Jon Williams is the acclaimed author of such superb novels as “Aristoi”, “Metropolitan”, “City on Fire” and the recent space opera trilogy Dread's Empire Fall. When I heard he was revisiting the post-singularity terrain that he mapped out so brilliantly in “Aristoi”, I was very excited and had very high expectations for “Implied Spaces”. I am happy to say that the book exceeded my expectations and is a fun, impossible-to-put-down romp bristling with ingenious ideas and speculations…

SETTING: In a relatively distant future about 1500 years from now, humanity has created eleven powerful planet-sized AI's that circle the Sun and are constrained only by supposedly unbreakable “Asimovian protocols”. These powerful entities use their immense computational powers and energy resources to create pocket universes that humans indulge their fantasies on. Since there is no ftl, interstellar travel is slow and the one extrasolar colony humanity tried to establish died out in a solar flare. But when you can create alternate universes and worlds tailor made for whatever fancy enough people want, whether medieval fantasy gaming, underwater living, or completely atechnological devolvution, the lack of ftl doesn’t matter. But it seems that someone powerful enough is unhappy with the status quo...

FORMAT/INFO: The hardcover edition of "Implied Spaces" that I bought stands at 265 pages divided over twenty-four numbered chapters with an epilogue presented as poem. The narration is third-person present tense following the adventures of Aristide, whom we first meet in a fantasy gaming/cultural preserve pocket universe as a mysterious swordsman with a talking cat and a powerful sword. Of course the cat is an avatar of Endora, one of the eleven AI's and governing entity of the pocket universe, while the sword is a wormhole that instead of killing Aristide's enemies, sends them to Hell—at least the version designed by himself and Endora.

July 2008 marks the North American Hardcover publication of “Implied Spaces” via
Night Shade Books. Cover art is provided by Dan Dos Santos.

PLOT HINTS AND ANALYSIS: Close to our present and about 1500 years before the action of “Implied Spaces”, when humanity was confined to Earth and several space stations and such, there was a terrible war/virus infestation called the Ctrl-Alt-Del War that killed billions and led directly to the creation of the eleven godlike AI's, pocket universes and attempts at sublight colonization of neighboring star systems. Aristide is a survivor of that war and used to be quite famous for reasons that will become clear in the novel and are essential to its plot. But now under this assumed name he tries to live in obscurity and spends his time studying Implied Spaces—unintended niches that result when a world or a universe is created.

In the medieval fantasy world people wanted high craggy mountains, and lush fields with a river valley and an ocean, but in between—by necessity—a desert plateau has to exist. That is an Implied Space and that's what Aristide and Bitsy the cat were studying to see how people and animals had adapted in the 600 years since creation. Spiders and ants mostly, but soon a threat to human civilization that may equal the Ctr-Alt-Del War is encountered. Someone powerful seems to be unhappy with the status quo and kidnaps and brainwashes easy to miss people from obscure places like that desert for quite nefarious purposes. Aristide starts investigating and as we slowly find out he is quite well positioned to do so for various reasons; what he discovers is quite startling and surprising including the ultimate Implied Space of all…

Even though “Implied Spaces” is only 265 pages long, the novel has a lot going on including action, romance, various strange planets, post singular war—which is short and brutal—intrigue, mystery and suspense. And after every layer is peeled away and we finally believe there is no more, the book hits us with even more surprises. In fact, the novel gets a little over-the-top, especially with the deja-vu sequences between Aristide and his former/current girlfriend, when either or both die, get reincarnated, and then repeat the previous actions with slight variations.

The dialogue is mostly snappy and funny, though it can be too cute sometimes. The ending meanwhile, is superb with the epilogue poem the icing on the cake so to speak, but there is clear scope for a sequel which would be a novel of literally cosmic dimensions. It would take a very daring attempt, but if anyone could pull it off, Walter Jon Williams would be the one and I hope we get to see Aristide, Endora/Bitsy and the rest of the gang again.

Overall, “Implied Spaces” leaves you with the sensation that a novel simply cannot be this much fun and have so many interesting ideas all at the same time. Yet, somehow Mr. Williams accomplishes the impossible, giving readers a rare gem. “Implied Spaces” is science fiction at its very best—one of the Top 5 SF novels that I’ve read this year—and it reminded me again why I love the genre so much. Highly, highly recommended…


Mark Chitty said...

I think I'll be moving this one to the top of my to-be-read pile now, sounds very good.

Susan said...

I requested this book from my local library when I read your review. It just came in last week, and I went to pick it up. I admit to being disappointed when I saw it... I'm a lover of thick, meaty tomes and this book didn't meet up with my size requirements. However can the book be that good, when it's so small?
Well. Well, well, well. What a read. What a wild trip, what exciting ideas. I'll be chewing over the thoughts in this book for sometime. Thank you for recommending it; it certainly hasn't disappointed.

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