Wednesday, 30 May 2012
BOOK REVIEW: FURTHER-BEYOND THE THRESHOLD by CHRIS ROBERSON
This is an expanded review which recently appeared on Amazon that, at the time of writing (30th May, 2012) earned 28 positive votes out of 30 (28/30) which is quite a large number by my usual standards –anything over 10 votes is exceptional. Mind you, it was the first Amazon UK review of the book and being the first gets more attention. (The book itself I got for free, a proof copy for review without the snazzy cover shown above.) I think it’s possibly because, having seen a specific criticism on amazon.com, I opened the review with my argument against said criticism. I’ve revised it for this blog because I wanted to go into a little more detail.
The 4 star review’s title is: Enjoyable far future adventure.
That's 12,000 years plus in the future without any back to the Stone Age disasters in between. This immediately sets up the argument that such a period of development would create a society incomprehensible to modern man. I disagree for a couple of reasons. The first is that we are already technologically advanced and just because we can't understand how something futuristic works doesn't mean we don't recognise it for what it is i.e. the product of science.
Arthur C. Clarke once wrote, or in words to this effect, that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. This sounds a clever thing to say when he said it decades ago but looking at it now it just sounds glib. It doesn't look like magic to our eyes, it just looks like technology. Having second thoughts, I don’t think it was a clever thing to say even then, it just sounded clever and, coming from the great man himself, it gained a lot of attention. I’m not being facetious here. Clarke is important in the history of science fiction and in populist writing about science. He was a genuinely creative thinker. But in this case he was wrong by, at the very least, a couple of hundred years and probably more.
The Renaissance brought about a great change in the way we saw the world, in particular that we are just a part of the universe and not the centre. For the next few hundred years, we saw the evolution in thinking about what call Science which exploded with the Industrial Revolution. A reasonably educated mid-Victorian would not be shocked or overwhelmed by contemporary technology once s/he’d had a change to take it all in. The changes in society would be far more overwhelming.
The second reason is that, while it goes without saying that society will be vastly different in the future, it's unlikely that our basic intelligence will have changed much. 12,000 years is a blink on the evolutionary scale and I don’t think that it’s altered significantly since the invention of writing and probably longer. Of course there’s always the possibility our intelligence could be enhanced by genetic advances but I’m not going to go there. My argument is that society a few thousand years in the future may be strange to our eyes but it won’t be incomprehensible.
What Roberson does is to create and deftly portray to the reader just such an advanced society as seen through the eyes of an astronaut born a couple of centuries hence. The first half is concerned with our hero RJ finding his way in the new world and the second with his command of the first ever FTL spaceship. I should note that thousands of worlds have been populated by means of (wormhole powered gates and getting from one world to another is as easy as walking through a door. There's a varied collection of supporting characters, some human, some A1, some enhanced animals (including cats, dogs, chimpanzees and killer whales), but all intelligences are considered by society to be human. Except by...
Which is where the conflict comes in and the novel climaxes with an encounter with the 'except by'. It's all very readable and a promising start to this new trilogy. I'm looking forward to getting my hands on the next one.