Another retro review. This time from October 1, 2003.
Those returning to the universe of Sheffield’s Cold As Ice and The Ganymede Club will be pleased to find their old friend Bat here. The reclusive, snoopy genius has exiled himself to a moon of Saturn. Unfortunately, his home on Pandora figures in the plans of the ruthless and pushy Ligon family who want to reverse their recent slide from third to tenth in the rankings of richest companies in the solar system.
Reluctantly involved in their plot is Alex Ligon, sort of the black sheep of the family. When not being bullied by his family into running errands — or auditioning for arranged marriages — he works for the government rather than Ligon Industries. He’s proud of a vast, sophisticated computer model of the entirety of human civilization in the solar system — until it shows mankind going extinct in less than a century. Bad modelling or a ominous and valid warning?
Meanwhile, young Millie Wu has signed on to work for one half of the Beston brothers — aka the Bastard and the Ogre, SETI researchers whose obsession about finding alien signals is matched only by their obsession with besting each other. Wu can’t quite believe her luck when she seems to have detected a genuine signal.
On Earth, Janeed Jannex and her childhood friend Sebastian Birch decide to emigrate to space, but their recruiters prove to surprisingly be interested in Birch’s almost idiot savant fascination with, of all things, clouds.
Those familiar with Sheffield’s previous work will expect these plotlines to converge, and, as with Cold As Ice, the surprises are less in the sometimes predictable plot twists than the why of events or their scientific explanation. Those who found the ideas of that novel interesting will also appreciate this one. Sheffield gives us a system wide internet, the Seine, that communicates instantaneously via quantum entanglement. There is the mining of methane deposits on the floors of Earth’s oceans, and a fairly detailed explanation of how an alien radio signal would be analysed and decoded. Even if Sheffield engages in a bit of handwaving with his explanations of Alex Ligon’s computer model, it is still interesting.
Readers new to this series should have no trouble jumping right in with this book, and those who have read the other two novels will find little amplifications of previous plots points — including Bat’s growing collection of weapons from the Great War.