BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A dangerous artifact from a long-lost alien race threatens to destroy the earth.
PROS: Lots if interesting story ideas; fast-paced narrative; cool tech; it never gets boring.
CONS: Not as cohesive as it could be; characters that sometimes blend together.
BOTTOM LINE: A very good story with lots of sense of wonder and action — enough that I’m looking forward to the just-released sequel (The Thousand Emperors).
One of the things that draws me to science fiction is sense of wonder and Gary Gibson’s Final Days has it in spades. Much of that wonder in this imaginative future of the year 2225 is tied up in the idea of wormhole technology; more specifically, gates that allow humanity to travel instantaneously between them. The gates are located on various human colony worlds, but the colonists do not control them, the Earth-based Coalition does and that spawns a faction of separatists who want to change that balance of power.
Enter the sinister ASI (Array Security and Immigration), whose job, publicly, is to police all matters surrounding the gates, though its leaders have other intentions. Saul Dumont is the story’s “good guy”, an well-intentioned ASI agent who is trying to cope with his decade-long separation from his wife and daughter due to an attack on the gate in the Copernicus system. Just weeks away from finally being able to reunite with them again, Saul stumbles on a conspiracy to hide the presence of a second set of network gates set up my the mysterious long-gone race of aliens called the “Founders”.
This second network of wormholes actually lead into the future, giving mankind a glimpse of things to come. An expedition is sent to investigate, but an accident leads to one of its members, Mitchell Stone, disappearing. Realizing the danger of the alien tech, but still acknowledging the power of knowing the future, a second expedition is dispatched a mere ten years into the future, where it is learned that all human life on the Earth has been destroyed, leaving behind nothing but ash — the apparent result of huge objects that appeared all over the Earth’s oceans. The only survivor ten years hence is Mitchell Stone, who they find cryogenically frozen on the moon, apparently the only survivor of the devastation that awaits mankind back in the present. But its anyone’s guess whether his knowledge can prevent the coming doom.
So far, this is all story setup and if the plot sounds a little overly complex, that’s because it is. Gibson throws lots of ideas at the reader every chance he gets, which mostly works in its favor, but sometimes burdens the story making it harder to follow, and oftentimes leaving the reader to guess how certain aspects of the plot actually fit into its other parts. Things do eventually coalesce in the end, but not without the price of the reader carrying along a bunch of unanswered questions along the way.
Several characters are the focus of the story: Saul and Mitchell, of course, and also Jeff Cairns, one of the scientists who was with Mitchell when he disappeared in the far future. The alternating threads of each of these characters seems disjoint for much of the novel making it feel less cohesive than it otherwise could be. Adding to that, the characters did not seem unique enough to be able to mentally separate them. (“Wait, was Jeff the scientist, the ASI agent, or the ASI suit?”). About midway through the book, we better understand the relationship between these characters.
Despite these bumps in the road, Final Days has several things going for it that ultimately counteract the negatives and weigh heavily in its favor:
- Time travel – The use of transporting one end of a wormhole at relativistic speeds to create a form of time travel is nothing short of cool, even if there is a little hand-waving involved. Although lost a bit in the complex plot, it’s used to marvelous effect and is the source of much sense of wonder throughout the story. I love good time travel ideas, and this story has that. It does not abuse the trope at all. Instead of “surprising” experienced readers with the ever-expected reveal of some characters being the same person, time travel is instead used (mostly) as a window into what’s to come and partly as a thought-provoking platform to think about determinism vs. free will.
- Apocalyptic fiction – At some point, it hits home that the novel really is about the end of the world. It’s a little hard to see at first (despite the story taking place over a mere five week period) because the focus is on the characters and not the destruction. For much of the book, it lacks the underlying bleakness that underlies, say, Stephen Baxter’s Flood, but it does kick in eventually.
- Fast-paced narrative – The story doesn’t really stop moving. Something interesting is happening in every single chapter and as a result, it’s never boring — a cardinal sin for any novel in which I seek to be entertained.
- Familiar tropes – To compensate for its jigsaw puzzle-like construction, the story leverages familiar tropes that the reader can use as handholds. Time travel? Check. Star gates? Check. Alien artifacts left behind by an advanced, enigmatic alien race? Check. To the author’s credit, despite feeling like he’s using “the same old tropes”, they work well in Final Days.
Final Days ultimately ends up being a fast-paced and fun adventure filled with action, intrigue and sense of wonder that leaves the reader wanting more.