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Superluminal: A Novel of Interplanetary Civil War Hardcover – May 11, 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
Daniel's much praised Metaplanetary (2001) presented an awesome vision of the future in which the Met (a system of super-strong cables like spider webs) connects the inner planets and people can communicate instantly across impossible distances due to the presence of "grist" (a form of quantum nanotechnology that permeates the solar system). In this ambitious sequel, war breaks out between the inner planets, ruled over by the increasingly despotic Chairman Amés, and the outer planets, led by the maverick Federal Army commander Roger Sherman. Meanwhile, a large cast of characters, some of them human, some complex computer-programs, but most some combination of the two, live out their lives. This is large-scale space opera with an enormous cast, spectacular battle scenes and 11 appendices to help readers keep things straight. The novel doesn't work quite as well as Metaplanetary, in part because the space warfare becomes a bit repetitious and in part because, as the middle book in what will be at least a trilogy, the tale comes to no real conclusion. Nor is Daniel's work as intellectually challenging as that of such writers as Ken MacLeod, Alastair Reynolds and Stephen Baxter. Still, there's much to like here, particularly for fans of Golden Age great E.E. "Doc" Smith.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Daniel's critically acclaimed Metaplanetary (2001) left readers dangling on the brink of an explosive civil war between the inner and the outer planets of the solar system. In the long-awaited sequel, Daniel returns to his brilliantly realized vision of evolving humanity in the thirty-first century, when planets are strung together by super-strong, kilometer-wide cables, and a ubiquitous nanotech-based substance called grist makes possible both sentient machinery and instantaneous interplanetary communication from Mercury to Pluto. As the action continues, Ames, the despotic leader of the inner planet collective known as the Met, renews his assault on all manner of semihuman and quasi-human life forms, while his chief rival, General Sherman, plots a counterattack with the added muscle of intelligent spacecraft. Daniel's inventiveness occasionally stretches credulity, as when showcasing the exploits of a sentient jeep or the matter-bending powers of Jill, an enigmatic being who is--literally--part grist, part ferret. Yet the story remains gripping throughout, and it is packed with enough ideas to leave readers hungering for another volume. Carl Hays
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Update, 22 Feb 2007: Sadly, there is still no word regarding the next (and, I would hope, concluding) book in this series. The first two books (Metaplanetary and Superluminal) succeeded in creating a fascinating future world, with intriguing characters and a captivating storyline. I want to know how it ends! Make no mistake, it's well worth reading these two books, even if the third never takes form. However, like many other readers, I seriously hope the author and publisher eventually get around to concluding the series and closing the story arc. I'm ready to pre-order!
So, although this volume has its read-in-the-airport-terminal value, the narrative stalls to get the reader to pony up for 3rd volume to see how the various threads end up being tied. So be prepared for a lot of battle scenes detailed in several layers to give us the sense of war-is-still-hell in the nanotech future. But don't expect the blossoming of ideas or the character development of the first volume.
Here's hoping for a better 3rd (and final?) volume.
To be sure, there are main characters, both new ones as well as familiar ones from the first volume. But in many cases their story-threads end abruptly, leaving us to assume that all will be resolved in the upcoming third book. In that regard, "Superluminal" perhaps suffers the fate common to many middle books in trilogies -- serving mainly as a bridge between setting up conflicts and resolving them.
That said, "Superluminal" is immensely enjoyable. Daniel peppers the book with Neal Stephenson-esque side passages delving into quantum cryptography and the characteristics and applications of military-grade nanotech. Daniel's fertile imagination is still in high gear as he develops on inventions like his interplanetary rail system, artificial intelligences known as free converts, and the quantum-based nanotech called "grist", which pervades everything from human organs to planetary surfaces. Fans who love the "sci" in sci-fi will have plenty to gnaw on here.
In short, although "Superluminal" isn't a breakout tale in its own right, it does a fine job of immersing up deeper in Daniel's future and providing an entertaining read.
On the positive side, Tony Daniel succeeds in making Director Ames a truly creepy entity and his characterization of a semisentient jeep was well done. On the other hand, several of the other characters are not as well fleshed out. Also, in juggling many plot lines at once, the author tends to focus on just a few and leaves the rest too bare. Considering that there were around a hundred pages worth of appendices that space would have been better utilized on the minor characters and their storylines.
Hopefully, the author's next project will be successful enough so that he can revisit this universe and provide a proper conclusion.