BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A rogue AI looking for godhood makes good on his promise to destroy those unwilling to accept him.
PROS: A well-balanced blend of space opera elements, especially large-scale concepts; never a dull moment; interesting characters; Swann’s straightforward writing style; rich setting; carefully crafted plot; just about every chapter had some cool idea in it.
CONS: Some of the passages perhaps feel a little too much like info-dumping.
BOTTOM LINE: An excellent conclusion to a consistently good series.
S. Andrew Swann’s Apotheosis trilogy, which began with Prophets and Heretics and now concludes with Messiah, has been an enjoyable series since the very beginning. It’s an epic space opera about an artificial intelligence’s rise to godhood that takes place in Swann’s incredibly rich Moreau/Confederacy universe, a setting for several other books, some of them trilogies themselves. I must admit some small amount of trepidation going into this book – an anxiety entirely of my own making. I had built up such high hopes for the final book that I thought they were impossible to satisfy. Fortunately the book delivered; Swann’s space opera concludes wonderfully.
By this point in the trilogy, the nefarious artificial intelligence known as Adam has the means to conquer any inhabited planet, a task in which he wastes no time implementing. Conquering a planet essentially means absorbing the inhabitants into its nano-cloud collective, but not before giving them the choice between that or death. That majority of the novel occurs in and around the planet Bakunin (except for some awesome scenes of destruction on Earth where there awaits a man who may be the key to stopping Adam’s conquest). Bakunin, a lawless planet, is in the midst of a newly-launched civil war, a situation that Adam does not foresee despite his ability to accurately shape the outcome of events.
Standing in Adam’s way are some of the characters from the previous books, plus a few new ones who are equally as interesting and well-drawn. The main protagonist, Nickolai Rajasthan, is perhaps the most complex. He’s a Moreau (a genetically-engineered hybrid; in this case he’s a cross between man and tiger) who comes from a highly religious culture from which he was cast out. Nickolai has been steadily losing his faith as situations call it into question. His search for meaning in the universe and his place within it are a nice parallel to Adam’s campaign towards godhood. Other characters, while not quite as complex, are still quite well drawn and easy to keep track of amidst the relatively large cast.
It’s been said that space opera is a label that has been too liberally applied to science fiction stories. Messiah cannot be lumped with such stories. It is an unabashed space opera through and through. I’m repeating myself here, but it’s a potent and perfectly-balanced mixture of action/adventure, intrigue, mystery, religion, cool tech and world building. There was something cool in just abut every chapter. It’s also grand in scope, a trait that far too many “space opera” stories are accused of lacking. Messiah comes off as meticulously crafted and there’s never any doubt Swann knows where’s he’s going, even when he’s juggling multiple story threads. This confidence shows and makes the reader feel like they are in good hands. It also reads quickly thanks to the author’s straightforward delivery. The only possible downside is that some of the passages feel a little too much like info-dumping. That’s not necessarily a bad thing since it does add to the world building.
Ultimately, Messiah was a book that held my interest the whole way through, left me eager to get back to it between readings and, in the end, left me satisfied. What more can you ask? Messiah is an excellent conclusion to a consistently good series and proves that S. Andrew Swann is one of science fiction’s most underrated authors.