I’ve noted before that I think science fiction author Linda Nagata is an underrated talent. She crafts mind bendingly imaginative tales. I’ve recommend several of her books, all in The Nanotech Succession series, which she has recently started adding to again with her latest book: Edges. (Technically the newer books are part of a new series she calls The Inverted Frontier, but they’re continuations of the earlier Nanotech books.)
I haven’t read much of her stuff outside of the Nanotech / Inverted series mainly because I’m primarily a space opera and/or far future fiction fan, and her other stuff doesn’t seem to fit that mold. But she wrote a book, called Memory, which originally was meant to be a standalone novel. However she recently revealed that the book has now been retconned into the Nanotech universe.
She even linked it to an enigmatic scene in Edges where the villain is explaining the massive megastructures appearing on the ship’s long range scopes of a star light years away, including a ring shaped world in orbit of a sun. This world, Nagata revealed in a blog post, is the setting of Memory. In addition, while her upcoming book Silver will be a direct sequel to Edges, it will also serve as a sequel to Memory.
She was careful to stipulate that Memory is not required reading for Silver, but I’d already been tempted by the book’s description and decided I wanted to read it.
The story takes place on the ring shaped world with the land on the outer rim of the ring. (The outer part threw me at first, since I expected the habitable part to be on the inner rim, with rotation providing artificial gravity. There is gravity, but apparently it’s provided in some other manner.) Another megastructure, “The Bow of Heaven” is visible in the sky.
The ring does rotate, providing night and day cycles. According to story lore, this world was created by a goddess. But a dark god made war with the goddess and the world was broken. The goddess now reportedly sleeps and dreams. (If you’ve read Edges, you’ll have a little insight into the “goddess” and “dark god.”)
An ever present reality in this world is the silver, a cloud of substance that arises at night or whenever the sun is obscured. When the silver comes, it frequently destroys whatever it touches, including people. Sometimes the silver recreates structures it consumed long ago, such as ancient cities, although the new structures are often made of different material from the originals. But the silver never returns people, although it does sometimes return artificial intelligence devices.
So people must avoid the silver. They can often do so by retreating at night to high places since the silver often stays in lower lying areas. Or they can shelter in temples, which are built around pits that produce small robots that are able to keep the silver back. However, neither of these strategies completely guarantee safety from the silver, as sometimes it surges and covers high places, or overwhelms temple defenses.
In addition, people in this world are essentially reincarnated after they die. They generally don’t remember their past lives, but do appear to have innate “talents” which are skills acquired in past lives. They also can only physically mate with one person in all the world, their reincarnated spouse, which they must somehow find. There are matchmakers which can help people find their one lover, but many have to wander the world for years looking for theirs, and some never do find them, at least in that life.
The protagonist, Jubilee, as a child, watches her brother, Jolly, be taken by the silver. Years later, when sitting on the wall of her mother’s temple, as the silver is forming for that night, a man walks out of the silver, an incomprehensible event. The man arrogantly demands to know where her brother Jolly is, and attempts to draw Jubilee into the silver. She escapes, but shortly thereafter she receives a message from Jolly, her lost brother. Somehow he has returned from the silver, but is in a far away land, and fleeing the man from the silver.
Nagata is careful to craft the story in such a way that this is unmistakably science fiction, but it often feels like fantasy, or perhaps what used to be called planetary romance, complete with an epic quest across several lands. The limited perspective of the characters enhances this feel.
I enjoyed this book immensely, but I’m actually glad I didn’t read it before now. While the story was very engaging, I wasn’t satisfied by the ending. Too much remained unexplained about the world and setting. I got the feeling that the book was meant to be the first in a series, the rest of which never materialized. (It came out in 2003.)
Fortunately, Nagata is now working on her new book, Silver, which should provide opportunities to answer many of the questions. Some of them were already answered by the events in Edges. One thing reading Memory does do is clarify the stakes at the end of Edges.
So, mind expanding fiction that is highly recommended!