Thursday, November 15, 2007

A fractal-edged discworld

kw: book reviews, science fiction, science fantasy, world-building, alien empires

The hyper-nobility and hyper-venality of Heinleinesque characters; a quest worthy of Galahad; a universe where you can travel by "train" and "boat" farther than starships travel in ours; a collection of ETI's beyond the imagination of Lucas (or his screenwriter)...

Or perhaps it's Terry Pratchett's Discworld, writ large...very large, crossed with a Star Wars or Lensman milieu. Whatever you call it, the author is Kay Kenyon with Bright of the Sky: Book One of The Entire and the Rose.

A jacket blurb calls the book "high concept." That used to be derogatory. In a way, I suppose you can state the premise in a sound bite: Another universe exists, intersecting ours at various 4-D points; one man went there, seemingly by accident, and returned with few memories; he left behind a wife and daughter, and now has the chance to return for them.

If you're going to do high concept right, charactization is everything. The plot can be simple, as this one is: a straightforward quest, with few divergences, so it expresses the very, very linear nature of the Titus Quinn. Yet he has his complexities, as do his supporting cast: Anzi, a Chalin (ersatz Chinese) woman and warrior; Cho, an alien clerk with a soft spot for Quinn; even the cruel, paranoid Yulin, Anzi's uncle, who vacillates between deciding to drown Quinn or to help him. His daughter Sydney, the blinded rider of an Inyx, a sort of telepathic tricera-horse, is equally strong in vignettes that show her rise to co-lead in the realm of the Inyx.

However, Quinn eventually returns to his home universe, to Earth, without finding either wife or daughter. A host of threads are left untraced, leaving plenty of room for for sequelae (a quadrilogy is planned).

What is the Entire? A strange realm: a flat plain, universe-sized, but finite. It has to be; if I did my math right, no matter how thin the plain may be, if it were infinite, its gravity would be infinite, regardless how high you ascended "above" it.

It is also not really a disc. It appears to be analogous to the Mandelbrot Set, but with fivefold symmetry. The five "arms" may be millions (billions, quadrillions?) of miles long, but they have one edge that divides and subdivides, with cusps through which "our" universe can be glimpsed, and perhaps visited. The opposite edge, if I read aright, is bounded by a "river" that can get you to the center in very little time.

And the sky overhead: As the title implies, it never darkens, though it dims to support a daily rest cycle. The Entire has no planets, so it has no stars. The sky is a seething river of light and heat called the Bright.

But the creatures! Mantislike "Tarig" rulers, creators of the Entire, and perhaps of the Rose, as our universe is called. Their purposes are almost unfathomable, as is their technology: sky ships that alone can approach the Bright, and are found to be enslaved creatures from the Heart, the universe of the Tarigs before they created Entire.

The humans of Entire are long-lived "simulacra" of Earth humans. The many other sentient creatures, having many, or six, or four, or two, or no legs, hint at planets other than Earth that supplied models. As the subject species live in the presence of their creators, one would think they have no other gods. But they do, a "Miserable God" that is universally feared and hated. The main blessing one bestows is, "May God not see you."

In such a realm then, Titus Quinn must pursue his quest as his memories return.

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