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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

"Final Days" by Gary Gibson (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official Gary Gibson Website
Read FBC Review of Stealing Light
Read FBC Review of Nova War
Read FBC Review of Empire of Light
Read FBC and Walker of Worlds Interview with Gary Gibson
Order Final Days HERE

INTRODUCTION: Scottish sf writer Gary Gibson burst onto the scene in 2004 with a very ambitious debut Angel Stations which made me a big time fan. While having some debut flaws like lack of balance and even too much ambition for the relatively limited page count, Angel Stations is not your "average" debut, but a very complex and mature novel that pays several close readings. His second novel, Against Gravity, quite different in tone was another hit with me and then turning his hand to "popular" new space opera on a galactic canvas and with all the associated paraphernalia, Mr. Gibson completed the Shoal trilogy of which its debut Stealing Light was my top sf novel of the year.

So with five novels that worked very well, Final Days was understandably another asap book for me despite that its main themes hinted in the blurb below: time travel and apocalyptic sf are among my least favorite in sf.

"But this new mode of transportation comes at a price and there are risks. Saul Dumont knows this better than anyone. He’s still trying to cope with the loss of the wormhole link to the Galileo system, which has stranded him on Earth far from his wife and child for the past several years.

Only weeks away from the link with Galileo finally being re-established, he stumbles across a conspiracy to suppress the discovery of a second, alien network of wormholes which lead billions of years in the future. A covert expedition is sent to what is named Site 17 to investigate, but when an accident occurs and one of the expedition, Mitchell Stone, disappears – they realise that they are dealing with something far beyond their understanding.

When a second expedition travels via the wormholes to Earth in the near future of 2245 they discover a devastated, lifeless solar system - all except for one man, Mitchell Stone, recovered from an experimental cryogenics facility in the ruins of a lunar city.

Stone may be the only surviving witness to the coming destruction of the Earth. But why is he the only survivor — and once he’s brought back to the present, is there any way he and Saul can prevent the destruction that’s coming"

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Starting in the past of our narrative but in the far future of the universe - all this being possible due to the wonders of an alien wormhole network that crisscrosses the spacetime - Final Days is a novel that has a puzzle like structure for maybe a third and then turns into pure action for the rest of its 350 odd pages. So in the first several chapters we have several plotlines developing and while they seem disparate it's worth paying close attention to their details which hint at how they will start converging.

The author starts each chapter with both location and the Earth timeline, though on occasion the story also takes place aeons away "objective" as the universe is concerned and that is important to note since the book progresses linearly as "Home Date" goes from January 2235 to some months later, but the plot twists back through time and fits piece by piece as the reader slowly discovers.

While having several more POV's that are important in outlining the global picture, Final Days has three main protagonists whose actions we follow: scientists Jeff Cairns part of one of the teams investigating the recently discovered far future alien wormhole network and Mitchell Stone from another such team whose close encounter with the alien artifacts gets the ball rolling so to speak, while grounding the novel, government agent Saul Dumont provides both the main action sequences and the "human" link between the seemingly disparate story-lines.

Complicated personal relationships with both Jeff and Mitchell that are slowly revealed and his personal tragedy of having his wife and daughter on the wrong side of a wormhole network link that had been severed ten years previously by still unknown but presumably hostile groups to the main Western Coalition government that controls the human wormhole network and hence the access to the "colonies", a near future reopening of that link as the government's slower than light ships finally are closing in, and current dangerous but seemingly routine undercover work, put Saul Dumont squarely in the center of the novel from the tension packed second chapter to the superb ending that wraps up nicely most threads.

Final Days (A+) has all the characteristics that have made Gary Gibson such a favorite writer of mine: great style, flowing narration that keeps one turning pages, compelling characters and enough twists to keep me guessing - even though here the general picture became reasonably clear after a while, there is a lot going on and the fate of the main characters plays out to the end so to speak. While a loose sequel titled Thousand Emperors is scheduled for next year, Final Days is a standalone novel in all ways that matter and it is another very strong showing for the author.


Bets Davies said...

I love any puzzle piece plot I can get. The convergences and the delicate interweaving fascinate me. You review almost has me picking up the book, but despite the grade you gave it, I am still going: NOOOOOOOO!!! No wormholes! No time travel
!! Argh! Shades of too much Star Trek!

Plus, this is bratty, but like a fair sampling of science fiction, you named three main characters, and none of them were female. This may be why I sway towards fantasy, generally.

Liviu said...

There are several female characters but it is true that the accent is on the three named; the one notable woman here is Olivia a scientist who is both former and current wife of Jeff and in-between that lover of Saul - so the "complicated" part in the relationship between the two

The world itself is not particularly male - there are several high ranking women, another sort of blue collar spacer who runs an independent flight business with her husband etc

As for time travel I am not particularly fond of that either but I just love the author's writing

His Shoal trilogy has Dakota Merrick as main character btw, as cool a woman lead in sf as it gets

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