Appleseed by John Clute
Hardcover - 337 pages (5 April, 2001) 
Orbit; ISBN: 1857237587
Review by Ernest Lilley 2001 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu  
Check out this book at: Amazon US / Amazon UK

Appleseed is 1) an adventure story set in the space opera arena, 2) a stab at representing a universe so complex that everywhere you look it only gets bigger, and 2) hopefully an engine which generates a sense of wonder.
- John Clute, SFRevu Interview

'It has been a long day,' said Freer .... 'Life-threatening behavior on the part of rouge Godzilla grunts, augment ... Data-plaque, carcinamotsis of an entire planet, deep personal grief, survivor guilt, exhaustion, stuff." - Appleseed.

 

The long dark night of the universe steals upon us not so much from barbarian hordes but from a creeping galactic computer crash. Plaque - the complexity of data exceeding the ability of worlds to process it, resulting in the computational crash of planets, which threaten to infect the machine consciousness of the galaxy and bring all artificial sentience to a state of chaos.

Appleseed reprises the lone trader merchant with a fast ship and a willingness to take on dangerous cargo, But Freer, aka "Stinky" to the artificial intelligences that surround him , merge with his consciousness and crew his ship, the Tile Dance, is no Hans Solo...he's less hero and more human, and thanks to the augmented technology of John Clute's future universe, he's human in ways that we can only struggle to grasp.

When Freer goes planetside to check things out while Tile Dance waits in a docking complex high above the planet's surface for their next shipping contract to arrive, the world falls into chaos, all it's data systems collapsing progressively, propagating outward from the planet. Freer and his AI companions  hurl themselves out through a wormhole nexus and clear of the Data Plaque behind them, fossilizing an entire solar system and killing billions in the process, a process that may have been aimed at stopping Freer. Better luck next time.

Clute's ideas are so outrageous that it takes a few pages before the size, shape, and nature of his universe starts to become clear. Full reality is what you see when you're hooked into more than human senses, but it's not virtual reality, it's more like extended reality. 

Remember the time-dilatation shots in the Matrix? You know, when the character jumps into the air and everything stops for a second before they kick the shit out of their opponent? We get that here too, in something called "Augment", in which Freer extends a field around his body that lets him experience faster time, though with the limits of physics still intact so he can only move at normal rates. Still it's handy, and accounts for why cartoon characters can run off a cliff without falling for a few seconds.

Before the planet Trencher collapsed into chaos, Tile Dance took aboard a pair of artificial intelligences. 'Uncle Sam', a mind superbly capable of protection, strategy and the dance of combat,  whether working through the smooth ovoid of the ship, or the smooth human muscles of Freer. The other, Vipassana, exists only for one thing, to find its way in the universe, to plot its position backwards and forwards in space and time. Freer himself is a pretty good pilot, typical of his ilk in these sorts of things, but Vipassana is more than good, though Freer has 'perfect pitch', Vipassan charts wormholes by 'feel'.

They also took aboard an alien with four cosmetic breast implants ('Neat,' said Freer. 'Very arousing for a homo sapiens.'), who is supposed to guide them to a planet where devices that clear plaque grow, which is the contract they took on...even if they didn't know it.

A mythic American folk hero, space war, mega-corporations gone "Godzilla", predecessor species, a space station the size of a small planet, androids, wormholes, artificial intelligences, sex, drugs, and if I check...probably rock and roll. It's all in here in a fast paced kaleidoscope of classic SF tropes combined with visionary thinking from a man who knows what he's talking about and writes better than a million monkeys armed with a million typewriters for a million years.

If you're lucky enough to be in the UK, go read it. If you can't wait for Tor to bring it out in the US in Feb '02 have someone send it to you. 

Appleseed is SF for a new century. It may be built on the the past, but it tastes like the future.

2001 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu