To get a good sense of what Implied Spaces is about, I’ll let the back cover blurb speak for itself instead of a psuedo-synopsis:
Aristide, a semi-retired computer scientist turned swordsman, is a scholar of the implied spaces, seeking meaning amid the accidents of architecture in a universe where reality itself has been sculpted and designed by superhuman machine intelligence. While exploring the pre-technological world Midgarth, one of four dozen pocket universes created within a series of vast, orbital matrioshka computer arrays, Aristide uncovers a fiendish plot threatening to set off a nightmare scenario, perhaps even bringing about the ultimate Existential Crisis: the end of civilization itself. Traveling the pocket universes with his wormhole-edged sword Tecmesssa in hand and talking cat Bitsy, avatar of the planet-sized computer Endora, at his side, Aristide must find a way to save the multiverse from subversion, sabotage, and certain destruction.
Sounds cool, right? And, for the most part it is.
I’ve had a hit and miss experience with Williams’ works in the past. I remember Aristoi as being pretty good as was Angel Station, but I thought Dread Empire’s Fall was just OK. Based on those previous experiences, I was tempering my expectations for Implied Spaces, in spite of the attractiveness of the back cover blurb. As it turns out, Implied Spaces turns out to be a terrifically fun read and, for the most part, lives up to the ‘coolness’ factor expressed in the blurb.
We get rolling with Aristide, as he is traveling through the vaguely Middle Eastern world of Midgarth. He is adventuring through the land with his ‘magic’ sword Tecmessa and his sarcastic talking cat Bitsy. You quickly realize that all is not as it seems, and not just because Bitsy talks. Things really get rolling as Aristide helps the people of a caravanserai attack a bandit stronghold that has been attacking trade caravans and taking prisoners for use in human sacrifices. As it turns out, the ‘god’, Venger, behind the bandit has much larger designs than just Midgarth. This sets up the conflict that permeates the rest of the novel.
Williams has created an interesting, post-human/post-singularity world, albeit one where ‘true’ A.I. hasn’t occurred because all computers powerful enough to host an A.I. have ‘Asimovian Protocols’ in place to prevent them from evolving into sentience. But what we do get is a civilization that uses wormhole technology to create pocket universes for use by its citizens. The universes are akin to virtual worlds, and today’s MMOs, and there are even a few nods to current gamer culture in the story. We also get the typical post-human tech with nanotechnology, mind-state backups, body creation/mutation (thus little ‘real’ death), Matrioshka computing platforms, and even a bit of space flight. All of this is detailed nicely within the story and it never seems that Williams is showing off, it all feels real within the story.
The story is an interesting one, detailing the conflict between super powerful entities, and moves at a brisk pace. In fact, Williams covers such sub-genre territory as the aforementioned adventure, a bit of military SF, some space opera (with weapons that would make E.E. Doc Smith proud), a bit of existential philosophy and even a zombie plague. However, this was the one drawback for me. Implied Spaces has a lot of good stuff going for it, it just changed tone too often and felt uneven. I really liked the opening section with it’s humor and adventure aspects, which took a back seat in the rest of the book. I will say that ‘Venger’s’ ultimate goal expands the scope of the book tremendously, and in a good way. It just feels so much ‘bigger’ than the rest of the story.
One other aspect of the book I have to mention: the cover. Dan dos Santos’ painting perfectly captures the feel of the story, and it’s juxtaposition of the ancient (swords) with the high tech (wormholes). I just really like the look presented and, had I discovered this book in the store, I would seriously consider walking out with it. Ok, not actually walking out, as that would be stealing. I mean buy the book. Based almost solely on the cover alone, that’s how much I like it.
All in all, Implied Spaces is a darn fine SF book, filled with a ton of interesting SF-nal ideas. I can only hope that there is more stories to come in this universe.