Thursday, December 11, 2008

Book #37, Singularity's Ring, Paul Melko

Singularity's Ring is Paul Melko's impressive novelistic debut. For me, one of the novel's strengths is a matter of technique: Melko not only conveys five different "pod" personalities through five distinct first-person narrations, but he absolutely makes best use of each pod constituent for the given events that unfold when it is doing the telling. That is to say, that if any of the first chapters had its narrator swapped out for one of the other pod members, the drama would be diminished. So Melko expertly achieves two things with this strategy; first, he introduces each pod member from the intimate first-person pov, and by changing one per chapter, establishes rising psychological suspense throughout the first five chapters. Second, he maximizes the information we learn about the emergent pod personality of Apollo Papadopulos by placing each constituent in a situation of danger/action. The one unfortunate side effect of this approach, as Paul Di Filippo points out in his review, is a certain regularity to the action beats, specially in the first part of the book. (It wasn't as much of a problem for me as it seems to have been for Di Filippo).

There's a lot that I liked, and much of it is covered in the previous review and in this one over at Strange Horizons. One element that particularly appealed to me was the idea that entire enthralling stories of realization might be found in the remnants of a great technological breakthrough, in the detritus of a Major Discovery, so to speak, rather than in the moments of revelation themselves. Our own history, at least that of technology, seems to corroborate that. Another thought that struck me was the metaphorical interpretation of the wrists as the points from which biochemical thoughts emerge and allow the pod members to communicate. Yes, there might be a scientific justification, but it doesn't seem like Melko, who demonstrates a lot of attention to detail (specially in the earlier, less frenzied sections) would have chosen wrists, with their symbolic overtones, accidentally (though he just might have!).

Do I have any other gripes? I think I feel like the title, while appropriate in a literal sense, is a bit of a cheat. Emphasizing the Singularity aspect of Melko's world seems misleading, not because it doesn't involve the effects of a singularity (in multiple ways) but because we tend to associate singularitarian fiction, I think, with more abstract conceptualizations and harder sf. This feels more like an adventure story with essentially adolescent protagonists who uncover incredible truths and may just end up altering the course of human evolution. It's rousing and engaging (and, despite the astute technique, very accessible). But I did feel that the plotting was too heavy, making the last section read more like a techno-thriller than an sf novel that was trying to blow my mind. But then again, the members of the First Community that Melko imagines literally had their minds blown, and look where it got them. So perhaps that's not such a bad thing.
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