‘Twas but last issue I reviewed Paul Melko’s WALLS OF THE UNIVERSE, number four in a series of books I considered especially spaced out, a series which has included Brian Stableford’s ARCHITECTS OF EMORTALITY, Paul Levinson’s THE CONSCIOUSNESS PLAGUE, and Robert J. Sawyer’s FLASH FORWARD, and now here I am with another such book, written by John Barnes and titled FINITY. Not very spaced, that title, but the book certainly is, and you may see that from considering that the title expresses a look at finitude from elsewhere, that being only the mind, but the mind is set upon faraway things, and what is spaced out but a mind…the mind of the author, and perhaps the mind of the reader as he reads what the author has written.
Arthur C. Clarke has called Barnes “a master of the genre”, Clarke being the writer who gave us the syllogism, “all technology, if advanced enough, is indistinguishable from magic”, and wrote a rather spaced book himself, THE LAST THEOREM. Barnes’ novel shows a complete coming-apart of the principles which hold things together, reducing his characters to wastrels and vagabonds traversing an ever-changing world formed of the intersecting of the realms of the Multiverse, looking for their former selves and wondering what will become of them and of the people and things they have known, and what they will ultimately end up with if they reach their goals. The story opens up with a dislocated reality and a ceaseless flow of alternate realities which already have the characters confused, until the moving finger indicates them as individuals and they become active parts of the ever-changing realities. Their so-called destinies are under the control of an artificial computer intelligence with personalities and an omniscience that is wide enough to preside, albeit ineffectually, over the confluences of the Multiverse. But nobody, artificial intelligence or real one, has any very good idea of what is going on, and no one can function at anything without the probability of errors. The book’s big AI even says that, in fact repeatedly. This is certainly an ambitious novel on the part of the author. Probably he is pointing out that everyone is fallible, even so-called never-miss computer intelligences and those whose intelligences designed them, so one can be dwarfed by a grammar-check mechanism and yet see its numerous failings. Yet the ceaseless search for escape from finitude and mortality goes on, and as real answers have not been found, this author hasn’t found them either, but he does answer with an assault on finitude, which his title expresses. The book puts him at least one step ahead of the existentialists in the perspective he takes and the advances he proposes by doing such a book.
That about sums up the book, and I’m not going into it in any closer detail. Read the book if you want to follow along with the author in the conflicts that result (for him, at least, there being here an opportunity for controversy) in taking such a perspective.
Next issue I will be presenting a look at Gregory Benford’s BEYOND INFINITY, a book which strives for cosmic consciousness of space and time in a book spanning as many centuries as Lovecraft spanned in his researches in the opposite direction. Does change happen through contumation, agony, setback and disaster? Are we hopelessly trapped in lives that are oppressed and conclude without accomplishment? Study this with the spaced-out writers.