John Bandicut was a highly skilled pilot, until an accident on Triton fried his neural connections, leaving him subject to silence-fugue. But that makes him the ideal candidate for the recently-awakened quarx to contact. The quarx has a vital mission: to save the Earth from an impending catastrophe, predicted by the Translator using highly advanced chaos science. But the mission, even if successful, will cost Bandicut everything.
The action moves along at a good clip, as Bandicut struggles to come to terms first with the alien lodged in his head, and then his role in the impending catastrophe. Bandicut's relationship with the fast-learning quarx is well drawn, ranging from angry, uncomprehending, touching, and comic. (They reminded me a little of Dalt and Pard in F. Paul Wilson's Healer.)
The major plot strands of the book are resolved at the end, but there is obviously a sequel. The chaos theory is mostly just a McGuffin here -- something to allow the Translator's prediction, plus a little in the description of the data net -- but it feels as though it might take on more importance as the series progresses. Good old-fashioned hard SF.
John Bandicut survives his desperate bid to save the Earth, only to find himself transported outside the Milky Way galaxy to The Shipworld, a mind-bogglingly enormous artificial environment, larger than a solar system. Here he meets up with two alien companions, Ik and Li-Jared, who have their own strange Translator stones. They discover that the Shipworld systems are being attacked and corrupted by the 'boojum', a malevolent virus-being, and they are enlisted by the shadow-people, fractal beings, to help destroy the boojum, if it doesn't destroy them first.
The sheer scale of Shipworld is well-drawn. This thing is even bigger than the Artifacts of Charles Sheffield's Heritage Universe series. It's also good to see a translation device that doesn't work perfectly, and that needs some material to work with before it can begin to translate. The second of the Chaos Chronicles manages a great change of scale, whilst maintaining the good hard SF-edge of the first.
After their defeat of the boojum, John Bandicut and his companions Ik, Li-Jared and Antares, along with the ever more sentient robots Napoleon and Copernicus, are sent by star spanner to an underwater world, where they must help the local civilisation, in decline after a variety of catastrophes, solve several threatening problems.
Yet another well-drawn change of scale. Now we are trapped at the bottom of the sea, under great pressure, in the dark and cold. The writing manages to capture this claustrophobic atmosphere very well. I also like the way the robots are developing personalities of their own.
The aliens are all different, but all are disappointingly rather 'humanoid' (bipedal, four-limbed, symmetric, head with mouths used to speak, etc.) The fractal shadow-people of the previous volume are about the only exceptions. However, Carver uses a clever trick to make the various alien races' speech sound distinct: every now and then the Translators fail to translate a difficult word, which instead comes through in the original language, all of which have their own sounds -- rasping, bonging, etc. This provides a constant, almost subliminal, reminder of the alienness.
And like the previous volumes, this isn't just an interesting world to explore; a little more of the underlying plot of the Translator and its Daughter stones is exposed as well, linking in to the next volume.
John Bandicut and his team are hoping for some well-deserved R&R, after their exhausting adventures with the Maw. But instead of a holiday back on The Shipworld, much to their dismay they find themselves delivered into the heart of another crisis. And this one is big : sentient stars being attacked so that they die before their time, ruthless AIs inimical to all organic life, and a hypernova about to explode and destroy a large part of the galaxy. Meanwhile, back in the Solar System, Julie Stone is undergoing her own interaction with the Translator.
I was a bit dubious about reading this after a 12 year gap -- would I remember enough to follow the series plot? -- would it maintain the remembered alien sensawunda? I needn't have worried -- I did, and it does. Here the vast scale is well drawn, as Bandy and the gang hurtle around the Orion Nebula, communicate with dying stars, fly about inside stars, enter n-space and walk between stars. There are also some great aliens (apart from their names, maybe): Delilah the blue ring, Ed the n-space being, and Deep and Dark, two space-faring aliens from another universe, who help them talk to the slow-thinking stars. It's the sheer sense of awesome scale that does it for me, and this is another great entry in the series. And the ending is surely a set-up for a further tale.