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Lockstep: A Novel Hardcover – March 25, 2014
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When 17-year-old Toby awakens from an accidentally extended hibernation, he discovers, to his amazement, that 14,000 years have passed. Even more surprising is that his younger brother and sister, Peter and Evayne, are only 40 years older than they were when he went to sleep. How can this be? But there are more surprises in store: Toby has become one of the most famous persons in history, a deity regarded as the Emperor of Time, thanks to a cult his sister has formed around him. And his brother, who has become a tyrant over the 70,000 worlds of the Lockstep, wants to kill him! The space-opera plot sounds relatively simple, but it is often lost in the fevered world building with which the author surrounds it—that and the vagaries of time, which even the characters acknowledge is complex. This is doubtless old hat to serious science-fiction fans, but tyro readers, feeling at sea, will welcome a humanizing touch: Toby meets a girl named Corva; they fall in love and together struggle to bring democracy to the Lockstep. And, yes, an open ending leaves room for a sequel. --Michael Cart
About the Author
KARL SCHROEDER lives in Toronto, Ontario. He is the author of Ventus (New York Times Notable book for 2001), Permanence (winner of the 2003 Prix Aurora Award for best Canadian SF novel), Lady of Mazes, and the Virga Series, beginning with Sun of Suns.
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Top Customer Reviews
Way back in time in the Lockstep universe, Earth was controlled by the super-rich. In order to escape that highly stratified world, Toby McGonigal’s family buys Sedna (a real recently discovered trans-Neptunian planetoid smaller than Pluto’s moon) and sets up an independent colony. While there, Toby, the eldest child, is sent to claim one of Sedna’s moon’s and accidentally goes into suspended animation, only to wake 14, 000 years later. Soon after he had disappeared, going into “sleep” (“wintering over”) became standard practice on Sedna—the colonists would sleep for year—using up no precious resources while robots did whatever was necessary to mine/grow/process/manufacture, etc.—and when the people woke up, they’d live a good month consuming resources, trading, and so forth, then go back to sleep. Eventually this became the typical fashion for colonizing and maintaining the new worlds—everyone would be on the same “lockstep’” cycle of wintering over (for decades by now), waking and “living”, then wintering over again. This way you could travel to another planet in sleep, arrive, stay in orbit, then wake when they do, and it would be as if it took you a mere day out of your life. The system cleverly obviates the need for FTL technology.
By the time Toby awakes, the lockstep universe has thousands of planets (most not actual planets, but smaller objects such as Sedna), and to his surprise, his brother and sister basically rule the Empire, his family having grown incredibly rich and powerful early on due to their monopoly on the original sleep technology. Because it furthered their aims, his siblings allowed/encouraged an entire mythology based on Toby (nobody ever knew what happened to him) as progenitor of the Lockstep concept and of his eventual savior-like return. Unfortunately, that was always predicated on the assumption he never would return, and now that he has, his siblings see him as a threat to their power, one they feel the need to remove by all means possible. Soon Toby is fleeing for his life, helped along by Corva, a young girl who has her own personal issues with how the Empire is run, even as his appearance causes all sorts of disturbing ripples—political, social, religious—throughout the universe.
As mentioned, I really like the thinking behind this premise. I enjoyed learning how it gradually came about, I like how it is reasoned out and solves in large part the question of how one has a multi-planet/multi-system society without FTL drives (which often involve a lot of handwaving). Along with that, because of how the Lockstep planets are out of the normal time line, they become witnesses to and a kind of seed bank for the “fast worlds”:
They gave rise to godlike AIs, and these grew bored and left the galaxy, or died, . . . or ran berserk . . . On many worlds humans wiped themselves out, or were wiped out by their creations . . . . [there were] expansions, contractions, raptures, uploading, downloading, mind control, body-swapping plagues. .. . wars, dark ages . . . when those would-be gods had wiped themselves out, the telltale silence from formerly buzzing stars would alert this or that lockstep, and they would send some colonists back. A few millennia later, the human population on Earth and the other lit worlds would again number in the billions or trillions.
It’s a great concept and I love visualizing how all that really cool space-opera-y stuff that is usually the basis/focus of a novel here becomes “weird stuff that happened while we were sleeping.”
As good as the premise are the tours we see of a few of the worlds, which are imaginatively crafted by Schroeder, such as one whose cities float in the midst of a gas giant: “the bubble he was in was at least a kilometer across, yet it was attached to an unknown number of others, like one soap bubble clinging to a raft of others . . . hover [ing] high in the atmosphere of some vast, dark planet.”
While I really liked the stage dressing, though, the characters and story were a different matter. None of the characters ever flashed to life for me—Toby, Corva, side characters all were pretty flat (side characters in fact had almost no discerning traits across the board).
Both Toby and Corva are a bit too passive, reacting more than acting, which combined with their flat characterization, makes it hard to care much what happens with them.
The plot has some pacing issues—moving too slowly in some places and too abruptly in others. There are some clunky expositional scenes. And I think it gives little away to say that one can see the romantic angle coming from light years away (sigh—couldn’t we once throw a male and female together and not have them fall in love? Please?).
By the end, the last 50-75 pages or so, I was tempted to start skimming, though I resisted the urge. Better pacing and characters as vividly drawn as the settings they moved through and Lockstep could have been a thoroughly enjoyable read. As it stands, it’s moderately pleasing through parts, lags in a bit too many sections, and ends up disappointing.
This is so totally NOT a pick-up-escapist novel.
It's an exacting, deeply-thought out rumination on one possible future of humanity in space with slower-than-light travel.
The story loosely revolves around Toby McGonigal, a young man from future Earth who has been lost in space for 14,000 years, cryogenically frozen in a "cicada bed."
He awakes to a different world...but one that still contains his family. How is that possible? Well here's where it gets mega-complicated. Apparently multiple worlds, and different cities on different worlds, have evolved a system to compensate for vast distances between those worlds coupled with scant resources. The solution: Lockstep, where these cities agree to "winter over" in cryogenic sleep for set amounts of time, and then waken for a short period (a day or a month or a week.)
So I could jump in my spaceship, sleep for a year, and on the other side of the galaxy the outpost where I'm going also is asleep. For both of us the journey takes but one day in our experienced time. While we're sleeping, robots continue to mine resources and stockpile goods we'll need when we awake.
Imagine a whole series of galaxies like that. But, and here's where I had to expand the mental effort equivalent to 3 bars of chocolate for each couple of pages: the frequency of the lockstep of the main "empire" that Toby's family is controlling is only one of many Locksteps. Some "winter over" for a year, some less or more time.
You see what I mean about this being complicated? And of course Toby has to get to the planet where his mother is still sleeping, and navigate through armies trying to stop him, and figure out his place in the new world (there's a lot of figuring out and less of action until the end.)
Enjoyable in the theoretical sense, I actually really enjoyed the last third of the book more than the first two thirds because that is where Toby starts to "game" the system as well as finally deal with his family. There's a small romance in this, but I was disappointed by the flimsy character of the heroine, who had a tendency to spout off informative lectures just like all the other minor characters.
Interesting concept, but be prepared for an education rather than escapist fun.
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