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This is the first volume in a series? Trilogy? I dunno. I can say that at least two more books follow it. So once again, it's the future: 2165 or around about that. It appears that by 2050, Earth had become all peaceable and stuff and also monstrously prosperous, thanks to technology. So everyone became real keen on exploring space. 'Cept that it would be really expensive and not terribly feasible to send human crews blasting around for hundreds of years to reach our nearest neighbors. So engram crews were sent instead: super-complex software recreations of actual people, or bodiless clones, if you will. This meant that the ships just basically had to be flying computers with some nanofacturing capabilities to build stuff at the destination. Also the engrams could basically ride along in stand-by mode, more or less sleeping, so as to not, you know, flip out through the sheer boredom of the long voyage. Well, at this here one distant destination, many light years away, and a hundred years after launch time, one engram does wig out over the basic disconnect over "my memories tell me I am Peter but really I know I am a computer program in a VR environment". So his crew dumps him in an android body on the planet's surface and tells him to just kind of putter about at the base camp there and stay out of their way. They get no transmissions from Earth, so obviously something happened during the trip and the home planet cannot or will not talk to them (although of course any real-time communications would be out of the question due to the years-long time lag). A coupla years later, the engrams are just minding their business and building robo-facilities and exploring and stuff, when, within a day, a bunch of linked orbital towers get connected via space elevator to the surface.Read more ›
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Echoes of Earth is the first novel in a new series. It is the story of the destruction of civilization in the Solar System and the discovery of aliens with greatly superior technology, combining elements of Allen's Ring of Charon, Vinge's Marooned in Real Time, Williamson's Manseed and Pohl's Heechee series. In 2050, Earth begins to send out 1000 exploration ships containing engrams, cybernetic personality simulations, rather than actual humans. All the engram crews are based on only 60 personalities. One of these engrams, based on Peter Stanmore Alander, is particularly unstable, but all break down within a few decades. The engram ship Frank Tipler has the mission to Upsilon Aquarius. In 2160, the ship reaches its target and the engram crew begins their mission to study the solar system. They had lost communications with Earth shortly after they left, but are confident that Earth will contact them later. Alien ships suddenly enter the UA system and build 10 orbital towers -- beanstalks -- and an interconnecting ring in only a few hours as the engrams watch. Peter Alander, who has been permanently assigned an android body to slow down his personality deterioration, enters an alien device at the bottom of one tower and is carried up to orbit. There he encounters the Gifts, 11 artificial intelligences who control the advanced technology provided by the aliens as gifts to the less advanced humans. Among these gifts are devices to communicate and travel faster than light. The Gifts are programmed to obey only one person -- Peter Alander -- among the crew; the aliens, who the engrams call Spinners, apparently want the Gift recipients to absorb the new technology slowly to reduce cultural shock.Read more ›
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Maybe it's just me, but I found this book hard to really like. It has some good elements: the aliens are intriguing and so is the technology, both human and alien. The premise of humans exploring beyond the solar system, encountering technologically superior aliens, and dealing with the consequences of such an encounter all appealed to me. Nor can I complain about the pace of the book. Events moved along and there was enough action to keep me involved. On the other hand, the story always had something of a cold, impersonal feel for me. I found it impossible to really care about the principal characters, most of whom are computer "engrams" (i.e. programmed personalities based on real people who remained back on Earth). These engrams run the starships while "inhabiting" a virtual environment within the starship computers. A "dead" engram is just a deleted program when all is said and done, and I just couldn't get emotionally involved with that. Further, what is done to humanity and to Earth, both by aliens and by ourselves and our own technology, felt both far-fetched and improbably grim to me. I read this book all the way through but, while it was interesting, I can't say that I liked it very much by the time I got to the end. Intellectually stimulating perhaps, but not emotionally satisfying. Some readers will like it a lot, I'm sure, but I had a very mixed reaction to it. At this point, I'm not sure if I will read the next book in this series or not. I can't give ECHOES OF EARTH a strong recommendation. Proceed at your own risk.
Sean Williams is the author of thirty-five novels, eighty short stories and the odd odd poem. He writes across the field of science fiction and fantasy for adults, young adults and children, and enjoys the occasional franchise, too, such as Star Wars and Doctor Who. His work has won awards, debuted at #1 on the New York Times hardback bestseller list, and been translated into numerous languages. His latest series is Troubletwisters, co-written with Garth Nix. Visit him online at www.seanwilliams.com