Vast

This concludes my retro review series of Linda Nagata’s Nanotech Succession. This one is from September 30, 2012.

As with the earlier books, the link is to the Kindle edition which has been slightly revised from the version I reviewed.

Review: Vast, Linda Nagata, 1998.Vast 

The final novel of Nagata’s Nantoech Succession is somewhat disappointing.

Nagata’s strengths are again on display here. There is her clever combining of information science and theory with a technology of an often organic sort. With the former, we get recorded and edited and copied personalities which operate in a matrix ranging from computers to something approaching a standard issue homo sapiens body. So-called “cells” – automata running in living matter and, sometimes, the dust scattered throughout solar systems to form a vast processing system – are the organic element.

Her language, particularly in the last four pages, can rise to an astringent poignancy, a clear-eyed look at life and man’s place in the cosmos that somehow doesn’t descend into nihilism or a sense of cosmic horror.

Nagata presents her plot and explanations for her mysteries much more forthrightly than in the preceding novel, Deception Well. That includes an opening prologue which brings the reader quickly up to speed. And, yes, we do get the answers to some of the bigger mysteries of the series.

The plot starts up on the heels of that novel and spans many light years and centuries. We start out with four characters from the end of that book: Lot – carrier of a charismatic plague which has destroyed many human settlements as they became “communions” and dropped out of the human race and, perhaps, existence; Urban – Lot’s friend, one of the few people immune to his charisma; Clemantine – sometime lover of both Urban and Lot but deeply suspicious of the latter’s charisma since she once was under the sway of his similarly cursed father; and Nikko – a minor character in Deception Well and the major character in the earlier The Bohr Maker and not desirous of connecting with memories of his past. These four undertake a quest to uncover the motives and power of the alien Chenzeme whose automated weapons still prowl the cosmos and destroy human settlements. Nikko and Clemantine pursue the Chenzeme out of revenge for injuries they have suffered by them. Lot hopes to discover the secret of the Chenzeme designed plague that is his charismatic ability, and Urban wants the secret of the Chenzeme stardrive. All are aboard the starship Null Boundary.

And there are plenty of interesting concepts and ideas. But things begin to drag in the middle of the novel. I think the problem starts when Nagata not only continues her detailed and logical unraveling of Chenzeme mysteries and technology but also gives us new characters aboard the Null Boundary. Some are resurrected from personalities in the ship’s libraries. Others are “children” though not in the traditional sense. Their presence and the complications they bring into the lives of the four main characters do not sustain the novel’s initial pace. For about eighty pages, the novel slows before another major event happens which puts things in motion for the climax.

Still, if you’ve read the other books in the series, you will want to read this one despite its faults because, again, Nagata gives some answers to her mysteries and some closure in the lives of her characters. It is most definitely not an entry point to the series.

 

More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

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