||Well written, with
realistic characters, but I wonder if I don't have a strong enough
scientific background for this book!
I suppose I should be following the
scientific journals more closely, so that I can be up to date on what is
going on in the field of quantum physics. The science of probability is
so tied up with things that I know nothing about, that when the
characters started talking about the details of their theories, I just
had to nod and assume that they were right, much like the team leader.
Although I liked the shared-reality of
the Worlders, I would have liked an explanation to their nature that was
a little more understandable. Still, the concept was so well developed
that it was only a small disappointment.
The book was well-written, for the most
part. Even from the early stages of the book, the reader could tell what
"shared-reality" was -numbing head-pains from people who were not in on
the truth. In order for things or people to be real, they must be known
by all, and cannot keep secrets or do things that are not for the common
Enli is our character from that point
of view. She is also unreal, because she killed her brother. In fact, it
gets worse than that: she and her brother were lovers. By their deeds,
both of them were declared unreal, and forced to work their way back to
reality, like a prison sentence (actually, her brother was forbidden
from being buried until she atoned). I really wondered how the priests did
this. For somebody to be unreal, they would force headpain on others, as
well as experiencing their own. And yet the people of Reality and
Atonement dealt with the unreal all the time. There were other people,
like Voratur, who didn't know that Enli was unreal. How did the priests
explain that? They used her as a spy, developed pills to control the
headpain. But how was she unreal, and yet that fact was not shared with
Voratur? The author allows for small shifts in local reality, which
allows the traders to be a little dishonest, but surely that should have been Enli's first glance into the plurality of realities. She, however,
doesn't notice until near the end of the book. I kept expecting the
priests to be immune from headpain and shared reality.
It is from Enli's point of view that we
see the humans, as well as her own society. I liked her interpretations
of the human anthropologists, though her translations should not have
been so complete. The completeness was for the sake of the readers, who
knew the words that she did not, but since she did not know them, the
meaning of the sentences would have been drastically changed.
We get to know the humans mostly from
the point of view of the team leader, Bazargan. He is a practical
leader, who does not share all of his knowledge with the others, for
practical reasons. They study in their field, while he studies the people. He
shares his theories with the others when it is relevant, and makes his
own observations, of everything.
I thought his intuition came a little
quickly, or rather unexplained, for the story. We should have seen him
come to his revelations, rather than being told after the fact, like the
others, especially since we were inside his head. It might have been a
logical conclusion that Enli was a spy, but what events gave him the
clues? How did he figure out that she was unreal?
Bazargan goes through the first half of
the book trying to give the impression that humans have a shared-reality
of their own, which would allow trade between the two worlds. Instead,
from the evidence his team members give, inadvertently, and a slip-up on
his part, they are found to be unreal, and thus it is required for the
people to kill them.
I agree with Bazargan's assessment of
humanity: with the fall of religion, people would go from restrained,
while putting others first, to an enthusiastic selfish attitude. It has
always been that way to a certain extent, but we see it happening more
and more these days, and if continued, I am sure he is right.
In the universe of this book, this
leads to people like David Allen, who follows a morning chemical mixture
to ensure that his mind and body are up to the days' tasks. David is an
idealist, who also has schizophrenia, which is masked behind the effects
of the drugs, so he appears almost normal most of the time. He is very
naive, and doesn't understand why people don't see the obvious that he
sees. Even though he is the most unbalanced character, I think he was
the best written. We see his thoughts, his patterns, and we can see
where he is going with his arguments -at least in the first half.
I can also somewhat understand much of
David's perspective about other cultures, to a point. With so many
cultures in the world, it is often difficult to be tolerant of ones we
are not familiar with. We might try to follow the cultures of a place
that we visit, but it might seem that the favor or respect is not
reciprocated. I think what we would usually expect -blending in- would be
forsaking the original culture of the visitors. As David sees it, every
culture should examine the others, take the best of all, and throw out
the extraneous parts, to incorporate it into a better humanity. How much
culture would we lose because of that?
David even goes further, in saying that
we could destroy fledgling cultures on other planets, in effect
violating Star Trek's Prime Directive, to enhance our own. This is where
we see that he is at least a little unbalanced.
The other two people are less
interesting because they do their jobs and are absorbed in gaining
scientific research knowledge, and neither are unstable. Anne is a
biologist, who doubles as the team's doctor. She takes brain scans of
the natives, and studies the chemicals and electromagnetic fields in the
environment, trying to determine what causes shared reality. Gruber is
an excited geologist who is very passionate about his work, and doesn't
take the rest of life too seriously, which annoys David greatly! I loved
listening to Gruber talk, at least before he became too technical.
I enjoyed the first half of the book
more than the second half. We learned a lot about the Worlders, and
their culture, as well as the nuances of their shared-reality. However,
once the Terrans are on the run, most of the action takes place in the
radioactive mountains. This might have been necessary from a plot
perspective, but it became a little tedious as they wandered about.
David became more unstable, Bazargan became claustrophobic, Gruber went
spelunking to find the source of the radioactivity and the likely cause
of the probability field that Anne believes causes the shared-reality.
What Gruber finds in the mountains is
an alien artefact, similar to the technology that allows starships to
travel through tunnels throughout the galaxy. It is also similar to the
artefact orbiting World, which the anthropology team didn't know about
until they were on the run, and was actually the cause of them being
The military team doesn't care about
the Worlders -all they want is the artefact, which appears to be a
massive weapon left behind by whoever built the gateways. This is where
we get a sense of the galaxy as a whole, but it is frustratingly sparse
on the details. Much of what we learn is given by the author's
It turns out that humans discovered the
gateways and followed them to other worlds, sometimes inhabited,
The aliens they encountered were all
less technologically advanced than Terrans, but all of an origin that
was distantly related. From a scientific standpoint, that doesn't make
sense, because it took a very special set of circumstances to make
humans dominant on Earth, and the laws of probability say that it is so
unlikely as to be impossible that this would happen twice, given the
same set of initial conditions. However, that is, I think, what the
series is getting at. These aliens can affect probability on a large
scale, using it as a weapon, possibly as a shield, and probably in many
The only race with non-human ancestors
that were discovered were the Fallers, hostile aliens that were about as
technologically advanced as Terrans. For unknown reasons, they attacked
all of the human colonies that they found, but give absolutely no
communications, no reasons, and are never captured alive. I really hope
that we get a better glimpse of these people in the future of the
So when the military team starts to tow
the artefact towards the gateway, it is inevitable that a Faller ship
would come to watch, hoping to steal it away at the right time. The
trick, however, is that the artefact is too large to fit through the
gateway without becoming a black hole, an event that it perceives as
being a very violent attack on itself. So in the end, this part of the
plot seems to be for naught because both the human and Faller ships are
destroyed. But the buried artefact, the "First Flower that fell from the
sky to create World", shows evidence that it was connected to the
other one through a quantum property that allows faster-than-light
communications. It will undoubtedly be explored in the future.
Like I said, there is a lot of science
in this science fiction. Maybe even too much. When authors start
spouting out numbers to support the physics, I wonder how much of it was
really necessary. I could follow a lot of it, but it could have been
done in a less quantitative manner.
In the end, we get to know a culture
and some humans from a future time, but we don't know what has changed.
We don't know if the artefact's explosion actually altered things on
World, or if the buried artefact protected the whole planet, the way it
protected the team in the mountains. There were a lot of characters
introduced on the Terran side of things, sometimes too many for me to
handle, but only four of them ended up surviving. I hope we see them in
the next book.