Tony Ballantyne is a musician and I can't help but think of his novels as literary symphonies complete with movements, fugues, themes and flowing connecting lines. I admit right off the bat that I gave the preceding duo five stars due to the literary, structural and plotline originality. I especially liked CAPACITY, to me, the most successful of the trio. To say I had high hopes for this one would be an understatement - I couldn't wait to get home and get started. As usual, an engimatic beginning leads to a story that draws the reader inside.
We arrive in a Free Exchange (FE) universe. An entity (human, robot, AI, etc) approaches another and asks for a trade and FE software arranges a "fair exchange" though the reasons are murky and many times not known until later. This implies an almost supernatural prescience. The ship, with an interesting crew, takes on Judy (the atomic Judy of CAPACITY fame) who knows that for some reason she is being led to Earth which has become a dangerous place due to the existence of Dark Seeds. These dangerous entities grow in the presence of intelligence, thus, they are attracted to the Watcher who is ruling over a 1984sh Earth, peaceful, non-violent and brainwashed.
The story begins to go awry when Eva is introduced (the ship is the Eva Rye, yet another sign). Judy keeps imagining she is Eva and somehow - please don't ask - the reader is hurriedly given an explanation of the Watcher and his origins, FE and its origins, Judy and her origins, the VNMs and just about everything's origin except the Universe. It seems quite forced and as such, reeks of phoniness. The action gets wilder and wilder and more illogical until...WHOOOSH - the Watcher suddenly leaves and Earth returns to its "old ways" of mud and grass.
Yes, it's another case of uneven scientific development, the bane of so many sci-fi stories. Why, with AI, nanotech, VNM, etc should the Earth resort to primitive status? More to the point, why do people still die at age 80 two hundred years from now? What will happen to the other realities, the personality constructs? So many unanswered questions but the Watcher (praise his name) is nowhere to be found. I guess we can mark the whole thing down to a dream of someone in a virtual world. Tony, I'd appreciate another book that made sense.