(A plague novel? read during a year with a global pandemic? Well, how apropos once again!)
Every book blurb is a promise of sorts about what you are about to get into. The problem is that these book blurbs are apparently written by people who don’t always actually know what the book is about. That’s often a point of irritation for me, but it is something you can’t help.
(Below there be spoilers. That’s just the review I am going to write today.)
Case in point: the blurb of this book mentions Vergil Ulam, the ‘protagonist’ of the story, who unceremoniously dies about 25% (I think) through the book.
Certainly, Ulam was ‘unaware how his actions would change the world’, but overall one reads the story expecting what is going to amount to a superhero origin story. What follows, for me at least, was one of the most pleasant and welcome bait and switches I ever read.
Here is how I would like to explain the story: do you remember the Zerg from Starcraft? Ever wonder how a ‘hive mind civilization’ could come about? That’s what this book goes into. The consequences of Ulam’s actions are that far reaching that they turn the human race into something extremely other. I thought it was pretty damned cool, but a little underwhelming with some of the explanations towards the end. Obviously, they can’t put that on the back of a book, but that is the story in a nutshell – a dude accidentally creates a hive mind civilization of sentient cells.
Or at least, that was my reading.
This is not your typical story. Like some sci-fi classics, it is absent of character development and a proper three-act story structure that everyone now-a-days seems to think is mandatory to write any kind of a story. But while I think that led to something of a boring story in the works of Olaf Stapeldon (sorry not sorry), here it worked: while the characters were really just there to show what was happening with the plot, the characters were enough of a presence to keep me grounded in the story. That’s what made the difference. There were characters enough to give a shit about the ideas the book was holding up, right until the book’s rather bleak end.
Right, the end. I don’t think I am too sold on some of the ideas here: the noosphere, and other notions of reality being subjective to the viewer. The fact that the creatures had to leave reality for another, less physically based, felt like a bit of a cop-out. Frankly, I was rooting for the hive mind to start doing interesting things in the galaxy. I really wanted this to be about the Zerg.