Recommendation: Edges (Inverted Frontier Book 1)

A few weeks ago I recommended Linda Nagata’s novel, Vast, the final book of her Nanotech Succession series.  Edges is both a sequel to that book, and the first episode in a new series, Inverted Frontier.

As in Vast, this is a future where mind uploading and copying is possible, where multiple copies of someone’s mind can run in computer systems, where new bodies can be grown on demand, and so where everyone is, in principle, immortal.  This is handy, because FTL (faster than light) travel is impossible, so interstellar travel takes decades or centuries.

I said immortal “in principle”, because this is a dangerous universe and survival is far from guaranteed.  As humans spread throughout interstellar space, the systems closest to the interior of human occupied space build vast Dyson swarms, called cordons, that effectively wall themselves off from the rest of the galaxy.

The frontier worlds on the outskirts watch through telescopes as the inner systems disappear behind the cordons.  Then, centuries later, the stars, one by one, reappear, apparently indicating that the cordons have collapsed.  The frontier worlds do not know if anyone survives in these regions.

During this time, the frontier worlds have had their own problems.  A fleet of automated alien ships, called the Chenzeme, appear and begin destroying the human colonies.  By the time of Vast, most of humanity has been wiped out.  Vast is a story of characters setting out to discover the source of the Chenzeme.

In Edges, two characters from Vast, or more accurately, two copies of characters from that earlier story, reunite and decide to explore in the direction of the inner worlds, to learn what has happened in those ancient systems, now known as the Hallowed Vastries.  They recruit a crew and begin a centuries long journey to discover what remains in those systems and see if anyone else is alive aside from their homeworld on the edge of human space.

As in Vast, there’s a lot going on in this novel.  The concept of characters spreading themselves out among several copies, and syncing memories as needed, is explored in detail.  One of the characters, Urban, in order to take over and control one of the Chemzeme coursers, has split himself into several specialty copies.  Another, Clementine, has a copy of herself that is forced to become less human, and so refuses to share her memories with her other selves to avoid contaminating them.

As in the earlier book, nano technology features heavily.  Ships and systems in these stories are living things, growing and adapting as needed for different situations.  And often battles happens at the microscopic level between legions of nanotech entities.

A substantial part of the book is spent exploring the society that ends up forming in the ship heading into the inner systems.  A little too much for my tastes.  But unlike Vast, this book has a healthy dose of action, including an explicit villain.

On the edges of the inner systems, the ship encounters a powerful being, shattered from an earlier defeat and exiled, but hungry for revenge and eager to find a ship to take him back.  Naturally our protagonists aren’t willing, which results in a contest that forms the central conflict of the book.

As advanced as the technology is in the story, we get the definite impression that the shattered being is far more advanced, and powerful, even in his compromised state.  And we get glimpses of technology far in advance of the culture that the main characters come from.  In this first book, they are only glimpses, with the promise of more to come.

If philosophical and mind bending space opera is your cup of tea, then I highly recommend Nagata’s books.  As I noted before, I think she is an underappreciated talent.  The imagination shown in her work is as sublime as anyone else I’ve read.

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10 Responses to Recommendation: Edges (Inverted Frontier Book 1)

  1. Wyrd Smythe says:

    Definitely added to my reading list!

    I have a little extra respect for SF authors who disdain FTL or other “magic” (I always liked that Bab5 didn’t have energy shields or transporters.)

    You ever read any Allen Steel? His near-Earth stuff is pretty good. Kind of like The Expanse a little, maybe.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The science in this one didn’t seem quite as hard as her earlier work. Some of the nanotech works in ways I’m not sure can be accounted for energy wise. And in both the old and new stuff, the spaceships seem to work without entropy. But it remains far harder than average, and I’m sure backstage explanations can be contrived to explain these issues.

      On FTL, I know what you mean. I remember trying to think how I might conceive of space travel in a fictional universe that was as realistic as possible with just the addition of some minimal FTL concept. But it inevitably takes over the entire paradigm. You can’t avoid it. The Expanse writers found as minimal a concept as they could to keep as much of the interplanetary dynamics as possible in place, but it still largely takes over the story. If you want your space travel to be realistic, you have to forego FTL, or accept you’re writing space fantasy. (Not that space fantasy can’t be a lot of fun.)

      I hadn’t heard of Steele. Looks interesting. Thanks! Any recommendations on a first book?

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      • Wyrd Smythe says:

        “But it remains far harder than average, and I’m sure backstage explanations can be contrived to explain these issues.”

        Indeed, and as SF fans, we’re used to allowing a “gimme” or two in hard SF. (Have I mentioned the idea of a “gimme” before? FTL is a gimme — something we hand-wave away in order to tell the story we want. One or two usually won’t break “hard” SF (Star Trek had warp drive, transporters and replicators, and high-energy hand weapons, all of which are gimmes).

        (As in “give me”… Give me this one impossible thing, and I’ll tell you a story…)

        Sadly, most nano-tech I’ve seen in SF has major energy and leverage problems. Things are very different on the small scale!

        “If you want your space travel to be realistic, you have to forego FTL, or accept you’re writing space fantasy”

        Ultimately, yeah, although we can have a hardness scale for SF. TV Tropes has a page, Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness, for instance.

        I do see quite a bit of ground between FTL and wizards, but when you come down to it, they are both fantasy!

        “Any recommendations on a first [Steele] book?”

        Yes: Orbital Decay. It’s what the friend who turned me on to him started me on.

        He has a space colony series, Coyote, that was pretty good, too.

        Liked by 1 person

        • You’re right, the difference between science fiction and fantasy is a broad spectrum and it’s wrong to imply that you’re either pure sci-fi or pure fantasy. And diamond hard SF is actually pretty rare.

          I remember reading Alastair Reynolds’ Revelation Space books and thinking how hard they were. (No FTL.) I was surprised to discover that the constant 1G his “lighthugger” ships achieved were powered by microscopic wormholes to the big bang, although if you’re going to have wormholes, his are pretty grounded.

          But gimmies are definitely important to allow the stories writers want to tell, and that most of us want to experience. Without warp drive, there’d be no Star Trek. (And without the transporter, there wouldn’t have been Star Trek in the 60s.) And without FTL, a lot of fun fiction goes by the wayside.

          One big gimmie in an otherwise pretty hard book is the dust storm at the beginning of ‘The Martian’. Weir fully admits in interviews that actual Martian dust storms aren’t dangerous in the way he described, but it was the only mechanism he could come up with to have his hero marooned on Mars.

          Nagata’s nanotech issues in Edges are on the energy side. Though they are presented in the context of an unknown and overpowering force. But I know what you mean about leverage. Monster nano-clouds chasing people down would require more than just nanotechnology.

          Thanks for the recommendation! Coyote is actually drawing me in more. (I’m a sucker for a diagram of a space ship at the front of the book.)

          Liked by 1 person

  2. john zande says:

    Cool. Halfway through Vast right now and quite enjoying it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wonderful recomendation. Bought

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Bought Edges and loving it

    Liked by 1 person

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