The trouble with eBooks is that it’s pretty difficult to judge how big they are. I picked up Noumenon and thought it was going to be a pretty average-sized science-fiction novel.
Well it wasn’t that. This book is epic. It was one of those book that felt like you’d been reading it for years. I don’t mean that in a bad way; the book was absolutely brilliant. It’s just that the pacing was so good, and the characters so well-defined, it felt like I was living every minute of the adventure.
Convoy Seven is a fleet of twelve ships dispatched from Earth in the middle of the 22nd century. The plan is to travel to a nearby star that, according to long-range scans, may be encased in an artificial structure (a Dyson Sphere, if you’re interested). As this is the first real possibility of life elsewhere in the galaxy, the fleet, crewed by one hundred thousand clones of astronauts and scientists, is sent on a three hundred year round trip to investigate the star. And as if three centuries wasn’t long enough, due to space/time dilation caused by travelling faster than light; three thousand years will have passed on Earth by the time the convoy returns.
See? I said it was an epic.
The story is a masterclass in writing; the prose is detailed, but not overdone. For such a detailed book it is surprisingly easy to read, especially given some of the technical aspects of the journey. The author has chosen to build the piece using a number of different viewpoints, including the fleet’s sentient AI. (I don’t think I’ve come across a mixture of first and third person narration so expertly blended together). There are a lot of characters – and I do mean A LOT), but they are handled evenly, with no one feeling particularly rushed or half built.
The journey to the star can best be described as eventful; which is just as well, otherwise the first third of the book would have probably been a little bit dull. It did give us the chance to learn how the space-faring society functioned; we got to witness new clones being born, learning their place in the mission, then being retired at the end of their useful life. (The colony has to maintain roughly the same number of people throughout the voyage).
The story slowed down a little bit once they reached the star, but then really motored along on the journey back to Earth. Along the way, disaster strikes, and in attempting to compensate for the tragedy, the whole colony slips into a near-fascist society … all concisely and brilliantly told with the same consistent use of prose and some genuinely funny and original dialogue.
If you haven’t read Noumenon then you should – even if you’re not a fan of science-fiction. If you took out all the space ships and subspace drives, then you’d still have a great story about a crew trying to fulfil their duty far from home.