To Each This World
I’m a big fan of Julie Czerneda’s writing. Yet I’ve been disappointed by her most recent books. I went into this book, therefore, with a little trepidation. I’m happy to say, though, that the Czerneda I enjoy is largely back. It’s not a perfect book, but it’s got strong characters, nifty aliens, and good ideas, (fairly) well executed.
The book stumbles a bit in its early stages, too eager to introduce us to all the key characters and shifting viewpoints before we’ve got a real footing in the story. There are telepresence clones (epitomes), sophisticated shape-changing AI (alternate intelligences), a teleportation portal, and mysterious aliens. Unfortunately, Czerneda doesn’t spend much time explaining how any of this works. The AIs are pretty clear, and develop throughout the story. The aliens are … mysterious, and that’s partly what the book is about. The epitomes, though, get by on the thinnest of handwaving, and the Portals are never really explained at all. You need two of them, they need ‘pilots’ to manage them, and they just work, somehow. It’s not entirely a minor point – the Portals are key to the plot, and I found the fact that they were so vague a continued irritant – especially toward the end, when they’re used in a way that made no sense to me, and was not required.
Somewhat surprisingly, for Czerneda, the aliens are also somewhat underplayed. We learn interesting things about them through the course of the book, but one key aspect – what their ‘Duality’ would actually, physically mean – is never really explained. Czerneda does incorporate a number of other gee-whiz aspects that largely make up for it, though. She also sprinkles in some red herrings – tantalizing suggestions that never really come to anything. Whether that’s verisimilitude or annoyance will likely vary by the reader.
The end also wraps up surprisingly quickly. Maybe because the book was already 600 pages long (though it reads quickly). I would have wished though, for a little more resolution for the fate of some key characters. Those characters don’t always act consistently, which undermines them a bit – e.g., in one case, the Arbiter saves people against their will, where in another he does not, for no clear reason. Another, introduced early on, and important toward the end, is a little too intuitive to be credible.
As a side note, Czerneda continues her one woman campaign to bring back contractions that are now less common – “I’ve an idea” instead of “I have an idea” or “I’ve got an idea”. I approve in general, and occasionally do the same, but the frequency of these contractions becomes distracting at times.
Largely, though, this is a welcome return to form from a talented, inventive author.
I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.