Divergence by Tony Ballantyne
|Divergence by Tony Ballantyne|
|Category: Science Fiction|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: The crew of a bizarre space craft fall upon trades that leave them with passengers and freight that are of ultimate importance in a galactic war between Artificial Intelligences. There are some signs of great creativity here, but the action and invention fail to disguise a disappointing story.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Maybe|
|Pages: 400||Date: May 2007|
The Milky Way, in the later years of the 23rd century is a scene of conflict. Our solar system is at the epicentre of a great battle between two god-like Artificial Intelligences. The Watcher is up against his inferior - his own creation - Chris, and the awful Dark Seeds - seeds of unknowable matter that will activate and kill upon you looking at them.
In the further reaches of space a motley crew of people are just getting used to their bizarre spacecraft, and its Fair Exchange technology. The FE allows trading on completely fair ground - both sides get what they want, and pay a valid cost depending on what they have to offer.
However this crew, through what? - call it experiment, call it chance, call it greater design - make trades that mean their spacecraft duplicates itself, and takes on passengers that have huge consequence. Passengers like Judy, and her drug-induced secondary personality, whose ultimate end is to get to Earth and put the war, the world, life itself, to rights.
I got some enjoyment out of the first few phases of this novel, as the awkward relationships on board play out, and the trades with unearthly robotic life-forms make them scratch their heads and come to blows. Surprisingly, I even believed the bit about the ship splitting in twain, and in the process improving. This leaves the adventure with but four of the original cast, and perhaps this is too few. Flashbacks to Judy's past, and way back into 21st Century Russia seem to leave the narrative a bit woolly.
All is of consequence in the end, and as you might have guessed, this is just another of those quest stories where people have to wait to find what important role they have to play in the saving of the world. But Ballantyne has managed to dress it up quite well.
He certainly has a successful way of portraying the more wondrous elements of his world - the VNMs that are spidery bots engaged in altering matter, and sometimes killing people, the various spacecraft involved, and the Dark Seeds themselves. However sometimes this invention fails him - when two kittens arrive on board, they might as well be carrying a sign saying 'pay attention, a lot rests on us', and it put me in mind of the Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy's Improbability Drive.
Also of question is calling Chris's sidekick Kevin - is that the usual name for an AI-cum-spacecraft entity?
Ballantyne has clearly avoided the clunky space opera that this story could have become - a gang of outcasts betwixt and between two huge AI powers. However in diverting to many different matters - varying degrees of artificial intelligences, philosophical questions and several scenes you have to work at to know what might have happened - he has perhaps lost some of the thrill of the story. You also have to be in the mood for the socio-political, metaphysical debate the ending hinges on - near the climax the whole battle avoids good versus evil, and you're still not sure if there's a right side to be on over the last few words, save some drippy message about what life means.
So, there is a lot of life and creativity in this book, but on the whole something just failed to grasp me enough. The strange is at times too strange, the finding import in untold realms sometimes too poorly told. This is a volume certainly for genre fans only, and they might well lap up all the unusual elements with greater glee that I did, but for me Divergence remains an interesting read, yet one of middling success.
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You can read more book reviews or buy Divergence by Tony Ballantyne at Amazon.com.
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