Friday, November 21, 2014

Go then, there are other worlds than these....

So, many moons ago, my friend Steve recommended I read Walter John Williams's Aristoi. It took a bit of doing, since the book is theoretically out of print, but I did find both a digital copy and a used paperback. The digital copy comes with a warning that formatting doesn't allow for one of the more interesting aspects of the print copy, which is the occasional section wherein Gabriel, our main character is doing one thing on the left hand side of the page, while he and his daimons and Reno unit all converse in a parallel column. It's a unique trick that does take more than a little adjustment when it happens.

Gabriel is one of the vaunted Aristoi, which could best be translated as royalty among the humans who have long since expanded out from Earth 2 (that's Earth to the second power, but I can't find the exponential on the character map) following the death by nano of Earth 1. Each Aristoi makes a domain out among the stars, running it as he or she sees fit. Pretty much everyone, not just Aristoi have Reno units (implanted in the thyroid, if I translated the Greek right) that connect them with oneirochron, which is more or less a virtual reality version of the internet. (The machine itself is called Hyperlogos, and it's said that Luna was long ago turned into a server.) Some rule as tyrants, some, like Gabriel, are more or less benevolent despots. Gabriel seems fairly content to create his planets, then let the people do as they wish. Mind you, his mother runs a church with Gabriel as the Godhead, but hey....

Gabriel is also seemingly bisexual (and a bit free with his morals), which we learn early on as he impregnates one of his boyfriends in Chapter 1. Mind you, later on we get a scene in which he has sex with his female doctor while his "avatar" in the oneirochron has sex with one of the female Aristoi. (Given this is done with the split prose mentioned up above, it's a bit....um.....distracting.)

For the most part, the Aristoi spend much of their time debating philosophy and creating domains that reflect their ideals. Gabriel spends much of his time sleeping around and writing music.

(Something I neglected to mention up above is what a Daimon actually is. Basically, everyone has multiple personalities that get modulated by their Reno unit, which allows or much in the way of multitasking. One can run off and compose poetry while another builds warships.)

As the book progresses, we eventually get drawn into a plot by another Ariste out in the Gaul sphere who seems to be compromising the Hyperlogos. Gabriel winds up building a large spaceship, loading it up with collegues and lovers and heading out to the sphere. What he finds there goes against what his society believes in.

Without going much further into this, mainly because the Gaul sphere makes up most of the last 3rd of the book and contains one whole host of contradictory philosophy, torture, and quite a bit of violence.

It's a very interesting read. Based on the Goodreads reviews, this book falls into a love-it-or-hate-it category. While I wouldn't exactly say this is the best book ever, it's one I see re-reading at some point, since a re-read would probably be less distracted with all the the tech running rampant throughout the book.

One very major issue is that the science never really gets explained, although that never really affected Star Wars or Star Trek. However, most folks will be questioning exactly what magic is in use to make a journey of 40 light years in under 4 months, or how the heck VR internet is done in Real Time across a distance as vast as the galaxy. I hear Neil Degrasse Tyson making twitter comments from here. However, much like the adjustment to the oneirochron and the fact that everyone keeps taking on postures and making mudras like a kung fu movie, it's easy to forget this and just enjoy the story. Particularly since the themes of "What makes us human?" and "What's the next step in our evolution?" are facinating to me.

The ending is a bit open ended, which makes me sad that Williams never returned to this world. I would love to see what happens next in Gabriel's life.