Absorption (Ragnarok #01) – John Meaney (2010)
Blurbs loaded with overhype are ultimately self-defeating since the reader, expecting something (as in this case where Stephen Baxter of all people, gushes on the front cover ‘Meaney has rewired SF! Everything is different now!’) quite extraordinary is instead provided with a novel which is an enjoyable enough read but breaks no barriers at all. There are some elements in fact which remind me a great deal of Hamilton’s ‘The Reality Dysfunction.’
The narrative is split between four timelines; 8th Century Europe, Germany and England in the years leading up to World War II, the 23rd Century and the 27th Century.
Crystalline humans of the future are co-ordinating a ‘coming together’ of various characters who themselves have resonances with Norse legend.
Some of the chosen individuals have discovered that they can communicate with each other when in danger and can see flapping shadows of darkness surrounding certain individuals (such as Hitler) who are usually up to no good.
In the 27th Century Roger Blackstone is starting college, and begins to see the dark shadows manifesting around his tutor, Ms Helsen. He has to wear contact lenses to hide the fact that his eyes are completely black, which means he is a pilot. Pilots are a separate human community who have a base in another universe. When someone is born in space, their eyes acquire this total black effect, although now it has become an inheritable trait and the children of Pilots are born like this. Meaney, perhaps wisely, glosses over any scientific basis for this phenomenon.
Roger’s father Carl is essentially a spy who has been living undercover for years in mainstream human society.
Characters in other timelines, who have evocative names like Wulf begin to see and hear each other.
In Roger’s timeline a posthuman Luculentis has been tricked into finding one of her ancestor’s implants hidden in her estate. The implant contains some of his memories and the vampire code programme which allows her to absorb the lifeforce of other Luculenti.
Once one gets into the flow of the narrative it is an enjoyable enough tale, although Meaney clearly has a problem handling such a large cast of characters and managing to develop them sufficiently as rounded individuals.
Roger’s father, Carl, for instance, and Max Spalding, are barely fleshed out as characters at all. Roger’s tutor Ms Helsen, has an important role to play in the novel and barely says five words.
Admittedly, this is the first of a trilogy and no doubt things will be further developed in the subsequent volumes, but there does seem to be a great deal of hyperbole at the expense of character development.
It might be just a case of far too many characters.
Less is more, as they say.