My current practice for trying to find new books is to go on Amazon related book recommendations until I find things I like (and also that are written mainly by women). On one such hunt I came across Noumenon Marina J Lostetter. I almost didn’t buy it because I think it was hardcover (and well, I just moved and I don’t have a lot of shelf-space) but I decided to go with Kindle. I love actual books, but I think I might have to get used to digital ones, or deal with books everywhere.
Anyway. Noumenon is great. It reminded me a bit of Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson but much better.
The plot is that at some point in the future, Earth is together enough to a) discover sub-dimensional travel (so space-faring is much faster – at least for those doing the travelling) and b) build a fleet of ships to go adventuring into space. The ship we follow is the Noumenon which is sent to look at an interesting ‘encrusted’ star. One hundred thousand people are going to be sent in the ship, all genetically selected to make the mission a success. However, those people aren’t going, their clones are going. And so we follow several generations of these clones through ups and downs, revolts, averted disasters and all the sorts of things you’d expect when having a space faring civilisation for hundreds of years.
But the constant is ICC (Inter Convoy Computer), who is an artificial intelligence that permeates all the ships. And honestly, ICC is my favourite character. I think I may have inherent sympathies for AI characters, it seems to be a trait in my reading habits. But ICC does its best to keep the convoy from disaster and develops into a genuinely interesting character throughout the book.
We are also kept grounded through the subsequent generations of clones though ICC’s perspective. We see them change and have their own personalities through each generation. They also in turn help ICC to become more of a sentient being itself. It’s wonderful.
And you do need that grounding – there are a lot of time jumps as they have to get to their destination and then back. It could have been very confusing and sometimes, you really question if the convoy really would have developed in that direction. However, when I thought a particular turn a bit too much, the chapter turned out to be incredibly interesting (if sometimes a bit distressing). So in the end my incredulity for some of the situations was overwhelmed by how interesting or tense or wonderful that particular generational story turned out to be.
But your mileage may vary. You have to accept some of the quirks in the way people think. I don’t want to give it away, but one of the central conceits of the latter half of the book I didn’t really buy into. I just don’t think you’d have all those people (who supposedly have all these remarkably genetic traits) believe some of the relatively non-scientific thinking – which then leads to the tension and issues the later generations have to face. However, the story and concept are still great, if you can accept that central conceit. But if you can’t, I imagine you may have problems with the latter half of the book.
As well, there were so many women characters! There were so many different kinds of people. Different races, different sexualities – that just made the whole thing seem so much more believable. They all had equal responsibilities and important roles to play. It was delightful. I would have loved to have been on the Noumenon with many of them (for some of the better parts anyway…) And it covered so many interesting things – love, loss, anger, hope. The characters are entirely believable and I empathised with a lot of them.
What a delightful find.