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.
But beauty turns deadly when an ancient AI bent on destruction uses it to travel uptime—to humanity’s future.
The Mindaru are dead. Or so exiled Earthman John Bandicut and his alien companions believe, after their intervention to save the Orion Nebula and surrounding worlds. But now a part of this ancient and malicious AI colony is swarming toward the present from its birthplace deep in the past. Their opening: a temporal disturbance in the starstream, a hyperspatial thoroughfare used by myriad civilizations. The disturbance emanates from the planetary defenses of nearby Karellia, whose people know nothing of the starstream or the galaxy-threatening Mindaru.
Only Bandicut and his friends have the knowledge and experience to act. But when several of the company go missing, he an Li-Jared must team with the pandimensional Ruall and her gokat—the oddest aliens Bandicut has met since the shadow-people—and journey to Karellia to find a way to cut off the timestream.
Meanwhile, on Shipworld, the “missing” Ik meets another human of Earth—a former lover of Bandicut’s—and embarks with her on a perilous mission far back into deep time, seeking a way to stop the Mindaru at their source.
The story begun in The Reefs of Time continues. The time-tides caused by Karellia’s defenses have brought the malicious Mindaru AI out of the deep past into the present, threatening Bandicut and Li-Jared, who have arrived at the backwater planet—Li-Jared’s homeworld—to find it on the brink of interplanetary war. Somehow they must forge a peace between Karellia and its neighboring world if the Mindaru threat is to be broken.
Back on Shipworld, Ik and Julie Stone risk their lives a second time to stop the Mindaru at their source: a planet near the galactic core, a billion years in the past. Can Antares, the beautiful humanoid who also loves Bandicut, help them? What of Bria the gokat? And Amaduse, the most influential librarian in Shipworld?
And in the deep time of the galaxy’s early history, by the light of a million suns, the Mindaru do hideous things to an innocent species. The Mindaru plan for the altered creatures bears momentous possibilities even the deadly AI cannot predict.
Time is critical. Time is elastic. And time is running out.