REVIEW SUMMARY: A fast-paced, immersive space opera that’s sure to please.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Lowly hero Tom Corcorigan rises through social ranks to fulfill his destiny.
PROS: Excellent world-building; fast-paced; a quick read.
CONS: Staccato writing style made for difficult reading at times; some events happen offstage.
BOTTOM LINE: A very good mix of adventure, sense of wonder and good, old-fashioned fun.
John Meaney‘s Paradox, book one of the Nulapeiron Sequence, first appeared over five years ago in the UK and has only recently been published in the U.S. This surprised me because this is a fast-paced, immersive space opera that’s sure to please.
The story is set on the planet Nulapeiron where humans live entirely in massive underground cities. The social structure is based on the level of your residence; the higher up you are, the better your social status. The lower levels are the home to the poor and the upper levels are reserved for the Lords and Ladies whose rule is guided by the future-seeing Oracles. Young Tom Corcorigan, a resident of a lower level, receives an info-crystal bestowed upon him by one of the mythical Pilots, who supposedly travel the stars via the fractal dimension of mu-space. The info-crystal reveals to Tom the story of the first pilot, Kathy McNamara, and her desperate attempts to rescue her lover from mu-space. Meanwhile, an Oracle absconds with Tom’s drug-addicted mother and predicts the death of Tom’s father. When the Oracle’s vision inevitable comes true, Tom swears revenge. Tom rises through the ranks of society to become a Lord, losing an arm in the process, and must figure out how to kill someone who can see the future.
Paradox does a great job world-building. Nulapeiron’s lower depths are vividly portrayed and are the perfect background for Tom’s humble beginnings. His family problems, while seen before, seem somehow reinvigorated by the complex society in which they occur. The early scenes where the Oracle visits Tom’s demesne, and many other scenes, were seriously page-turning. Later parts, when Tom is older and becomes a part of a freedom-fighting group, were also well done. Part of the world-building is exemplified by the cool technology. I particularly liked the info tablets and the organic wall-extruding of the Lords’ castles. The info-crystal, also neat, served to fill in the back story of how Pilots came to be. And how cool are the once-human Oracles, slaves to their own ability, forever homeless is a shifting wave of both future and past?
The themes explored in the book are equally compelling. Since the dominance of the Oracles and their Lords comes with a price that is paid for by the people of the lower levels, the struggle for freedom was one I was rooting for. Given the presence of Oracles, fate and destiny also play a prominent and interesting role.
Despite the numerous characters, this was a plot-driven story. Events did seem to unfold almost accidentally with the sole purpose of having Tom rise through the social ranks. This is fine, as far as plot advancement goes, but sometimes things which I would have liked to see happened offstage with a corresponding jump of a year or three in the story. Similar sequences which were portrayed had me devouring pages, so I wanted more.
The writing style, for me, was the book’s biggest obstacle but also one of its appeals. Let me explain. Much of the book was written with a staccato writing style. Oftentimes sentences consisted of a single word. This hurt the book to some degree by forcing a decrease in reading speed. At times it felt like I was reading an outline of a novel. Oddly, that very same writing style served to propel the plot at supersonic speeds – no time wasted deliberating on this or that emotion. It was more like “idea communicated, let’s move on.” This was a bigger plus for story pacing than it was a detriment to reading speed. In the end, I think the writing style was a double-edged sword with a net gain for the reader.
The story structure itself was interesting. Besides the occasionally interwoven Pilot chapters, Paradox challenges the reader by starting (sometimes in every single chapter) in some unknown area of this wonderfully detailed future vision and leaving him to figure out what was going on. Usually, any confusion lasted for only a single, quickly digested page, but it was occasionally a minor frustration. However, in the grand scheme of things, this was a minor nit.
Overall, Paradox offers a very good mix of adventure, sense of wonder and good, old-fashioned fun. The sequels are not something I want to miss.