Thunder’s Mouth Press (2005)
Reviewed by Alisa Krasnostein (this review was first published in October 2006)
I read somewhere recently that science fiction was a struggling genre because so much of previous SF had been realised – the internet, gene sequencing, IVF, cloning, organ transplants and so on. At the time I wondered about the implications of this generalised statement: if SF had nothing left to conquer, did it follow then that so too humanity had nothing left to grapple about the future?
How fortunate then for me to have Damien Broderick’s Godplayers next in my reading queue! Here I found scientific theory at its most cutting-edge and science fiction at its most current. Even with my background in science/engineering and reading several of the current scientific journals, I couldn’t begin to try and explain much of this book, so beyond my own understanding was it.
At the outset I was thrown into a world of chaos and confusion as I followed the main protagonist, August Seebeck into … well, chaos and confusion. It all starts when August goes home to visit his Great Aunt Tansy who informs him that someone has been leaving corpses in her upstairs bathtub on Saturday nights. Not to worry though, they are removed by the morning. And so everything August knows to be true about the world is thrown into disarray: he’s not an only child, his parents may not be dead after all and he is a Player, perhaps The Player, in the Contest of Worlds … whatever that is.
That about sums up what I can say about the plot. This book is challenging to read. Broderick doesn’t shy away from physics theory. In fact, he piles it on like strawberry jam on fresh, hot bread, using it liberally in dialogue, narrative and explanation alike. Eventually I realised that it didn’t matter if I didn’t quite follow the reasoning – after all, perhaps that logic doesn’t quite apply in my version of the world anyway. Challenging, though, is hard to write. Most writers overshoot and end up at confusing – too many characters, too much plot – it can all get a bit unwieldy in the hands of the inexperienced. Somehow, Broderick shapes and crafts all these things into an intriguing narrative – much like a maze that you are lost in: you know that going deeper inside the labyrinth is only going to get you further in trouble yet you just must see what’s there.
Not only is the science challenging, so is the plot. Chapters switch point of view from August to any one of his many siblings, to his newfound love interest to excerpts of SgrA*, the “bible” of the K-Machines, the opposition, and back again. This adds to the confusion of trying to work out what is going on. So too does August who can be rather frustrating at times, preferring to throw a tantrum rather than ask the right person the right question so I, the reader, can put all the pieces of the puzzle together.
What impressed me most was that in the hands of a lesser writer, this would have been anything but the brilliant work it is. The plot never fully comes together, I’m not convinced that I understood all the scientific arguments and postulations and I didn’t get a fully developed version of many of the key players and their motivations. Yet I couldn’t put the book down.
As I write this review, I’d really rather be reading the sequel, K-Machines, to see if more of the underlying story reveals itself. I suspect though that it might not. Being confused amd unsure is actually more than half the appeal for this book. It’s not dumbed down for a mainstream audience, it’s hard science fiction at its best, one step ahead of the reader and challenging you to come to the party rather than being so slow and obvious that you are left picking the holes in the science for entertainment.
The plot doesn’t unravel from A to B and all is not neatly resolved at the end of the alloted 300 pages. This book is exciting and thought-provoking. It’s a rip-roaring adventure through the “multiuniverses”, whilst looking over your shoulder – reminding us that strong science fiction at its finest is not only still possible but is still being written today. This is one of the best books I’ve read in a very long time.