Cenotaxis is Sean Williams’ novella, set in his Astropolis universe, that bridges the gap between the first book, Saturn Returns, and the second book, Earth Ascendant. However, you need not have read Saturn Returns to read Cenotaxis. You’ll miss some of the context, but the story, novella really, is rather self contained. The story covers the actions of Imre Bergamasc as he tries to coerce Earth and its people to enlist in his quest to discover the source of the ‘Slow Wave’, which wreaked havoc on the galactic civilization in Saturn Returns. Things don’t go as smoothly as planned, and Imre must face off against an opponent who may, or may not be, God personified.
There’s lots to like in Cenotaxis, particularly in the setting, which is an extension of the one from the series. However, Williams adds some rather cool SF-nal ideas to Cenotaxis. First, we have Jasper, the man who believes he is God. Jasper is unique, as he appears to be a the result of a breeding program to produce ‘God’. In this case, Jasper, while not omnipotent, is omniscient in a limited way, due to his ‘achronistic’ way to experiencing time. In other words, Jasper is similar to Billy Pilgrim from Slaughter House 5 as he seems to jump around in time. However, we realize that Jasper’s consciousness is actually time jumping, a la Desmod from the LOST episode, ‘The Constant’. Williams explores how a nonlinear view of time would affect someone’s actions, and how that might lead to omniscient seeming actions. Several times Jasper is able to escape traps that Imre has set for him to due to this time view. Williams also throws in a heavy dose of how belief and the divine play a large role in the evolution of humanity.
The other really cool idea Williams has is the ‘Apparatus’, an intelligence akin to the Forts from Saturn Returns, but seeming to be an A.I., rather than biological. I won’t ruin the surprise by explaining how it’s constructed, but suffice it to say it’s a really neat SF idea with huge implications. The Apparatus seems to be Jasper’s advisor in many respects, but its unclear what the exact relationship is between them, or who built it or why. Imre eventually learns something of the Apparatus and changes his focus from ‘persuading’ Earth (via military action) to join him, to trying to find the Apparatus.
The one big negative I had with Cenotaxis was the vague nature of the story. I never had a good grasp as to why Earth was so important that Imre and company would wage a 50 year war against it just to bring it into his crusade against those who unleashed the ‘Slow Wave’. Even after going back and rereading the final few pages from Saturn Returns, I was still in the dark. Hopefully, the next book will explain more about why Earth is so important. Secondly, it’s not clear who or what Jasper really is. His actions at the end really seemed to come out of nowhere and even after going back over the ending chapters, I still wasn’t sure why he did what he did. Imre, though, will have an interesting ally on his side for the next book.
And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the very sweet cover by Sparth. It certainly goes well with the feeling of the story.
All in all, Cenotaxis is an interesting read that almost becomes great, but it’s vagueness holds it back. Certainly worth it for those who are reading the Astropolis series. It did serve to whet my appetite for the next book!