David Zindell's strikingly unconventional first novel takes us to a wondrous future. Three millennia from our time, long destroyed Old Earth is little more than a memory, humanity and its descendants have scattered in diaspora throughout the galaxy. The species has diverged. There are those who have remained faithful to the old form, others who have chosen to return to simpler modes of life, and some have developed beyond humanity and have become gods. There are elder races and stupefying entities like the Silicon God or the Solid State Entity with its many moon-brains.
Mallory Ringess is a young pilot of the Order, and a native of beautiful Neverness on the harsh planet Icefall. Neverness, the Unreal City, so called because of its location near a space-time topology once considered impossible. The pilots of the Order, proving mathematical theorems to travel the manifold, have discovered a grave danger. The stars of the Vild explode, threatening to spread destruction throughout the galaxy. Now the Timekeeper, Lord of the Order, has called a quest to find the secret of life. Foolishly, Mallory, a fresh graduate out of the pilot's college, enters into a bet to penetrate the thickspace of the Solid State Entity. Against all odds Mallory survives. After his return, guided by hints from the Entity, accompanied by friends and family, he undertakes an expedition crossing the frozen deserts of Icefall to the Alaloi, who have returned to the Neanderthal form, and whose DNA may unlock the great secret. Only later will the foolishness of the enterprise become apparent. Disaster and death ensue, and Mallory himself dies for the first time. Yet much is still to follow.
Zindell's prose has a soft, unique style, and a certain poetic quality permeates all of the book. It is a long novel, with many threads finely interwoven from beginning to end. Zindell masterfully crafts a host of neologisms to go with the intricate detail of his world, from stone age hunter-gatherer to transcended goddess. The beautiful city of Neverness, with its many quarters, professions, human and alien inhabitants, is described in loving detail. "David Zindell writes of interstellar mathematics in poetic prose", a reviewer is quoted on the back of my copy, a phrasing I can't improve on. Never has space travel and battle been like this. Perhaps most remarkably, Zindell breaks with the often cherished notion of making Homo sapiens the pinnacle of intelligent life. Our current form is just an intermediate step to a future as immortal gods beyond human comprehension.
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