Skip to main content

Exodus (SF) - Alex Lamb ***

Exodus is full throttle, rip-roaring space opera, with a side helping of virtual reality and biotech. It strongly brings to mind two classics of the genre. The first is Star Trek's Borg episodes. As is the case with the Borg, the humans here face up to the conquering Photurians - who seek to assimilate whole species into their strange mix of hive mind and individuality. The tech behind the invaders may be at the biological cellular level rather than cyborg, but the effect is equally terrifying. I can't help but feel that this was a conscious influence, given the Borg's catchphrase, as at one point one of Alex Lamb's characters says:  'I mean resistance is worth it. The opposite of futile.'

Then there is E. E. 'Doc' Smith's Lensman series. Though obscure now, in its time, the Lensman series was one of the founding sagas of space opera. Thankfully, Lamb writes a lot better than Smith does - frankly, his style was distinctly clunky -  but if you know the classics, it's hard not to see similarities in the vast flotillas of spaceships, devastating futuristic weapons and some of the main characters becoming superhuman thanks to highly advanced alien technology.

Although Exodus, without doubt, fits into the space opera genre, I ought to stress that this is no simplistic shoot-ups in space storyline. Like the second version of the TV show Battlestar Galactica, this book manages to transcend its roots - here with a complex mix of storylines and some remarkable imagination. This is particularly true in the 'Willworld' segments. Lamb really stretches the possibilities of combining virtual reality and biological modification and manages a complex scenario without the reader ever becoming lost in it.

This is a book I enjoyed reading... but didn't really make me want to go back for more. There are a few issues I had with it that were probably more about what I like to read than the book itself. Each chapter is split into around five different points of view, which I've never been fond of in a novel - and for me, at around 600 pages, it's too long - it could have been trimmed 100 pages at least without losing anything, tightening the whole thing up. For various reasons I found it difficult to empathise with many of the characters. But if you like a complex space opera with lots of hi-tech imaginings and a tangled, multi-point-of-view plot, this could well be a delight.


Paperback:  

Kindle:  


Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Great Silence – Milan Cirkovic ****

The great 20th century physicist Enrico Fermi didn’t say a lot about extraterrestrial life, but his one utterance on the subject has gone down in legend. He said ‘Where is everybody?’ Given the enormous size and age of the universe, and the basic Copernican principle that there’s nothing special about planet Earth, space should be teeming with aliens. Yet we see no evidence of them. That, in a nutshell, is Fermi’s paradox.

Not everyone agrees that Fermi’s paradox is a paradox. To some people, it’s far from obvious that ‘space should be teeming with aliens’, while UFO believers would scoff at the suggestion that ‘we see no evidence of them’. Even people who accept that both statements are true – including  a lot of professional scientists – don’t always lose sleep over Fermi’s paradox. That’s something that makes Milan Cirkovic see red, because he takes it very seriously indeed. In his own words, ‘it is the most complex multidisciplinary problem in contemporary science’.

He points out th…

The Happy Brain - Dean Burnett ****

This book was sitting on my desk for some time, and every time I saw it, I read the title as 'The Happy Brian'. The pleasure this gave me was one aspect of the science of happiness that Dean Burnett does not cover in this engaging book.

Burnett's writing style is breezy and sometimes (particularly in footnotes) verging on the whimsical. His approach works best in the parts of the narrative where he is interviewing everyone from Charlotte Church to a stand-up comedian and various professors on aspects of happiness. We get to see the relevance of home and familiarity, other people, love (and sex), humour and more, always tying the observations back to the brain.

In a way, Burnett sets himself up to fail, pointing out fairly early on that everything is far too complex in the brain to really pin down the causes of something as diffuse as happiness. He starts off with the idea of cheekily trying to get time on an MRI scanner to study what his own brain does when he's happy, b…

Beyond Weird - Philip Ball *****

It would be easy to think 'Surely we don't need another book on quantum physics.' There are loads of them. Anyone should be happy with The Quantum Age on applications and the basics, Cracking Quantum Physics for an illustrated introduction or In Search of Schrödinger's Cat for classic history of science coverage. Don't be fooled, though - because in Beyond Weird, Philip Ball has done something rare in my experience until Quantum Sense and Nonsense came along. It makes an attempt not to describe quantum physics, but to explain why it is the way it is.

Historically this has rarely happened. It's true that physicists have come up with various interpretations of quantum physics, but these are designed as technical mechanisms to bridge the gap between theory and the world as we see it, rather than explanations that would make sense to the ordinary reader.

Ball does not ignore the interpretations, though he clearly isn't happy with any of them. He seems to come clo…