by Brian Stableford
Publisher: Tor Books; ISBN: 0765301695; (December 1, 2002)
Hardcover: 544 pages List price $27.95
Review by Ernest Lilley
Eleven hundred years hence, Adam Zimmerman awakes from the frosty sleep of SusAn. He wakes at a time of ending and change, which is fitting, for he's the one who set much of it in motion. Along with him for the ride are a "petty thief" and a serial killer who survive from our near future, and joining him are representatives of several branches of post-humanity, theoretically on hand to sell their own brand of future to this historic icon.
Beginning in an orbital habitat on the far side of the sun, the party of eight has all the earmarks of a whodunit, and indeed for much of the book that's what it is, delivered in the first person traditional to such mysteries, by the "petty thief", one Madoc Tamlin, a twenty-first century hacker who has no idea why he was put on ice for a thousand years.
Why did Madoc the hacker get put away? Why did Christine commit thirteen homicides before being frozen? Why wake these two along with the man who changed the economic course of mankind? They'd certainly like to know and it's a deep space parlor mystery for all. Intrigue, kidnapping, interstellar war (technically speaking), and more abound...though with curiously little action and a lot of exposition.
The Omega Expedition is the conclusion of Brian Stableford's Emortality Series, and thanks to some suspended animation and the lack of faster than light drives, enough characters from his previous works are on hand to let each of those stories get some sort of closure. The author assures us in a lengthily (but useful) introduction that "this volume is readable as a direct sequel to any one of four earlier volumes...and forms a parenthetical pair in association with the other." He delivers on that promise, though having read only two of the preceding books I was left wishing I had time to go back and read the entire series just to make sure I was getting everything I could out of it. Unlike the "emortals" that develop over his thousand year story span though, I had to press on.
If the author ever happens to read that last line, he may find some irony within, because one of the many philosophical points he raises, much as the French Philosopher Voltaire does at the end of "Candide", is that "pressing on" is exactly the business of living, no matter how much time you may imagine you have. Serious Science Fiction often seeks to answer the big questions, and it doesn't get much more serious than The Omega Expedition. Stableford considers (and this is only a partial list), property, angst, immortality, the origin of consciousness, the persistence of self, the shallowness of reality and the depth of vitality, virtual sex, flesh sex, sexlessness, terraforming (rights to and practicalities of), humanity, post-humanity, the Vingian Singularity, and the Omega Point.
The Omega Point deserves some explanation, since it's in the book's title, and one might suppose arriving at it is the point of the story. It isn't, though it does get a fair amount of airtime. Whether you (or the author) put much stock in it, it has been supposed that there is an instant in time when everything that ever was is once again, preferably at the end of everything. Charles Sheffield's Tomorrow and Tomorrow ( SFRevu Jan '98) might more aptly be called the Omega Expedition, since the point of that story is to reach the end of time in order to bring his wife back. A lot of references are made to the Omega Point, but the point of this novel is what to do while you wait for it.
The story's central character keeps encountering new representatives of the future that he's awakened in and each time he sets himself to work trying to demonstrate to them that he can keep up, that he is smart enough to be taken seriously...that he might still be good for something.
I know just how he feels. The author is so much smarter and so much better educated than I am, that I felt like that trying to figure out what was going to happen next. It's not that I couldn't keep up...but I kept wanting to try to get ahead of him. It can be painful when you identify with the main character too much. There's a lot of philosophy expounded in this book, and I wouldn't mind an annotated version to point me to the original sources.
There are a lot of loose ends for the author to tie up from the other books in the series, and it keeps him pretty busy while he gets down to the main course...the meaning of life. Unless you've read all of the other books you may find yourself wondering whether each turn of event is there to move the plot forward or to tie thing's up from a previous book...but the answer is probably both.
I enjoyed The Omega Expedition, though I'd have like the action and adventure to have figured more into the plot. Wherever Brian Stableford decides to take us next, I'll be happy to sign on to the next expedition.