Another retro review, this time from August 23, 2000.
Review: Tower to the Sky, Phillip C. Jennings, 1988.
Set in the year 3727, this novel takes place in the same universe as Jennings’ collection The Bug Life Chronicles and continues the story of some of the characters in that volume.
All the technological paraphernalia of that universe are here, principally the idea of recording human memories and personalties — “souls” — and running the resulting software in a variety of platforms: human bodies, human/animal hybrids, and computer chips. “Bugs”, souls embodied in microchips inside of a mechanical body, inhabit space. A project to boost photosynthesis has gone out of control and rendered Eurasia and Africa uninhabitable due to a runaway jungle. Largely primitive humans live on the rest of the globe. The souls of the dying are radioed to the City of the Dead on Mercury where they participate in elaborate computer games until someone chooses to reincarnate them in another body. Added to this mix are “fictoids”, software imitations of fictional and historical personages.
The only thing really new Jennings throws in is Earthstalk, a giant elevator into space. When an almost forgotten probe returns to Earth and announces it has seeded a colony world around Alpha Centauri, Senator Ramnis, a politician in the Hegemony, a culture of mostly Edwardian-level technology, and a member of the preternaturally lucky Souldancer tribe, decides that the Earthstalk would make a splendid generation starship. All he has to do is break it off its base and coerce or persuade its native inhabitants, a wildly diverse lot, into going along with the idea.
Unfortunately, while Jennings’ elliptical, obscure prose works at the length of a short story, a whole novel of confusing manipulations and double dealings with the thinnest of explanations as to motives is tedious and slow going and had me going back several times to refresh my memory or to see if a plot development was adequately set up. Even those who have read the collection will probably find this one confusing. There also isn’t enough of the wild speculations that made The Bug Life Chronicles intriguing.
Besides Senator Ramnis, Jennings brings back many other characters from The Bug Life Chronicles including Ramnis’ enemy, U Gyi, Olivia, Magda, Torfinn, Alice Spendlowe, and Cedric Chittagong. Only those who really, really want to continue the adventures of these characters will want to read this novel.