Further: Beyond the Threshold
by Chris Roberson
Cover Artist: Marcel Clements / Shutterstock
Review by Ernest Lilley
47North Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 1612182437
Date: 22 May 2012 List Price $14.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Captain Ramachandra Jason Stone is the classic Buck Rogers astronaut by way of a future that doesn't include the U.S., as we were taken out of the game by an asteroid strike, which landed pretty much smack on Hollywood and broke the country. Captain of the Wayfarer, humanity's first starship, he‘d settled down for the long nap while his ship and crew moseyed on towards a not too distant star, but thanks to a micrometeorite impact, woke up twelve thousand years later, the sole survivor of the expedition. The world he wakes to, needless to say doesn't look like the one he left, and on wakening, he even gets his Planet of the Apes moment, when the first person he meets is an evolved dog. The uplifted chimp comes later.
Although humanity looks a lot more diverse than it did when he went into hypersleep, now including lions, tigers, and probably bears, but certainly chimps, as well as elephants and augmented, cloned, or otherwise hacked base line humans, the song remains the same. We're vain, cranky, bemused, and beguiled in the same ways we've always been. The biggest problem humanity faces is probably that we're jaded, and a tad bored.
Which is probably why the AI collective known as the Plenum, nominates him as captain, and their representative, on the experimental FTL starship that's been in the works for the last century or so. We can only hope that things go better for him this time around.
The starship is named Further, and it's a two kilometer sphere with another kilometer worth of ring sticking out from its middle. As such it's more of a giant space station, or habitat, that goes places rather than the classic starship, but it does have a bridge, and there's only one comfy chair in the middle.
That Stone get's so sit in the big chair makes no sense at all, except for all the good will it garners around human space. He's a romantic hero from the past, and he's going to lead us on a bold adventure. In classic Trek fashion, that does mean that he's bumped the woman who'd been looking forward to the job, and is now his XO. The more things change, etc.
What defines being human is a pretty conceit. Humans are Earth born consciousnesses, whether they're based on animal, vegetable, or mineral. Okay, there aren't any vegetable intelligences here, but they'd qualify. The diaspora among the stars counts as human, as long as they play nice. Brutish, warped cultures can get cut off from the star gates that connect all the worlds. Cultures like the Iron Mask, which killed thousands the last time humankind opened the portal to check and see if isolation had taught them manners. Closing the door wasn't easy, but they managed it, though the memory lingers on.
So, Stone jumps at the chance to lead the way to the (further) stars. His (loyal?) crew is along for the adventure, or for a lark, or because they wanted to play dress up in whatever uniform they fancied at pretty much whatever job on the ship they wanted. The price of admission is to have donated a healthy chunk of the currency of the day, energy, to the venture, and although there's a notional command structure, the ship's AI is running things and the captain is just pointing out places he might like to go.
The place he chooses to go is a pulsar that's been acting strange, and which caught the interest of Xerxes, the robotic drone that's part of its own diaspora, seeking strange new worlds in the hope of finding genuinely alien intelligent life. Xerxes was transmitted by data stream to an uninhabited world where human explorers intercepted his data stream and reconstructed him from it. On waking, he looked around at the humans and endearing muttered, "Oh, it’s you."
Gotta love a snarky droid.
When they finally arrive at the star they run smack into the Iron Mask's advance party and a whole lot of clichés, but I'll let you work through that when you get there.
The science feels like it's been cribbed from the better writers out there, but without adding anything new. FTL travel, artificial gravity, Nano machines, and AI can be had by dipping into the works of a few first tier hard-SF authors like Kim Stanley Robinson and Charles Stross, and you've got it made. Slower than light travel? Call it 1/10 the speed of light and nobody will quibble. Artificial gravity? Stick with centripetal force for the most part and you're in good company. If that doesn't suit, jump up to a happy side effect of creating a warp space bubble and who can kick? And when it comes to the life sciences, there's a tried and true tradition there to mine from as well. Nano machinery to keep you in one piece, life extension tech to keep you young, that's all tried and tested SF. Uplifted animals with human intellects? Thank David Brin and the crew of Seeker, though nobody has ever done it better.
The science in Further isn't an issue, but to steal a few words from James Blish, thirteen thousand years in the future evidently all judgment has fled, but all in all it's a fun romp through the stars. In fact, when it was done I found myself grudgingly admitting to myself that I’d read the next episode.