April 29, 2010

Book review: "Geosynchron," by David Louis Edelman

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Geosynchron, by David Louis Edelman

By David Louis Edelman

Science-fiction trilogies are notoriously tricky things, precisely because of their dual nature: they only succeed when telling a unified uber-story that effortlessly flows from one book to the next, yet each of those novels need to be decent standalone books as well, in that it's so infinitely easier to simply stop reading a trilogy after book one than to put down a thousand-page single volume 300 pages in. And indeed, for three years now, the jury's been out as far as the fate of David Louis Edelman's "Jump 225" trilogy, his fiction debut whose first volume, 2007's Infoquake, garnered him a surprise Campbell Award nomination, a trilogy I have a soft spot for because of Infoquake being one of the first books I ever reviewed here; as I mentioned for example in my write-up of volume two, 2008's MultiReal, the three-book arc seemed to be treading on decent if not traditional ground, although with none of us able to say how it would end up until seeing volume three, this year's Geosynchron, for ourselves. But now that I finally have read that concluding title, I'm happy to say that things end with a rather literal bang, with Edelman turning in a book that nicely answers all lingering questions from his expansive universe, yet stands alone as a much better volume than either of the first two; and this is always such a great thing to see, after watching so many other SF trilogies end on a whimper instead.

Those who are interested might want to first read the 500-word summary of the Jump 225 universe I did for my review of the original Infoquake; but in a nutshell, our story takes place at least several hundred years after our own times, a future history which includes an apocalyptic war against sentient machines that decimated billions of humans, then a "Second Dark Age" when nearly all technology was banned, and the world's survivors ruled by oppressive nation-sized religious/military organizations. This then eventually led to a second Renaissance (or "The Reawakening" as it's known to them), in which the old theories behind both democratic checks and balances and dot-com-era capitalist entrepreneurialism were re-discovered, and suddenly worshipped as passionately as the citizens of the Enlightenment worshipped the ideas of the ancient Greeks; and the whole reason this era of humanity got kick-started in the first place was because of the legendary Surina family, inventors of a three-pronged system called Bio/logics, in which millions of nanobots are introduced to a human body then programmed with a whole series of free-market applications for making that body work better (everything from apps regulating heart rates to ones that change eye color), ushering in a whole new period of scientific advances, eventually leading to such miracles as five-sense virtual remote traveling, high-speed maglev lines now circling the globe, and even honest-to-God teleportation, even if it's so expensive that hardly anyone can afford to use it.

Edelman's trilogy itself, then, tells the story of one of these entrepreneurial nanobot programmers, a charming assh-le named Natch (think Jason Calacanis except thinner and better-looking, not a surprising comparison because of the author's background in web entrepreneurialism himself); the actual storyline first follows the saga of Natch and his team rising to the top of the Bio/logics market, which then brings him to the attention of the latest member of the Surina bloodline, who like all her ancestors has come up with her own invention for changing the course of humanity, a system of programs that supposedly manipulate these inner-body nanobots into literally predicting the future. (And in fact this is the weakest part of the entire trilogy, the fact that this "MultiReal" technology doesn't hold up to even a moderate amount of reader scrutiny; for example, if playing a game of tennis, these programs are supposed to be able to cycle through the millions of choices available to your opponent during any particular microsecond of their latest racket swing, determine which will most likely happen, then automatically direct the nanobots in your own body to perform the exact most perfect countermove faster than you can even consciously think, a cool idea but that because riddled with problems once you start thinking about it in any level of detail.) The second volume of the trilogy, then, is mostly about the myriad of issues that surround this MultiReal technology -- how safe it is, how to best introduce it to humanity, how to best keep it out of the hands of their competitors, and how this may or may not relate to the growing number of massive psychic "infoquakes" the human race has been experiencing more and more. (And please know that there are dozens of other inventive details regarding Edelman's universe that I'm leaving out for the sake of brevity, including the "pharisees" of southeast Asia who don't believe in using Bio/logics, the various philosophy-based nation-states that have largely supplanted governmental organizations and the constant state of cold war they are all in, and lots more.)

The good news, though, is that Geosynchron largely ignores most of the smaller details from the first two books, in order to examine the much trippier story of what happens to Natch as the first private beta-tester of this MultiReal system; and this is a blessing, frankly, in that Edelman had by the end of volume two already exhausted most of the possibilities inherent in this "wetware dot-com age of the future" milieu he created for the trilogy's beginning, and also that I was finding myself even then growing increasingly annoyed at the cutesy, instantly dated "CyberThis, CyberThat" terms he had invented for every little thing going on. Thankfully, Edelman seemed to understand as well that such elements had been almost completely played out, so takes the story in volume three in a much grander direction, really delving into the sociological issues that would come with a technology like this, examining what such a thing would really mean in practical terms for the very future of the human race, and whether such a thing could be legitimately called an evolutionary shortcut. And in the meanwhile, Edelman really pushes himself linguistically as well, using the side effects of this experimental technology as an excuse to tell Natch's story in a non-linear fashion, with the scenes taking place in his head jumping instantly from childhood to adulthood and back again, the author finally displaying the kind of maturity in his personal style that I had been publicly hoping for during the first two volumes.

It all adds up by the end to a rather remarkable thing, a final volume that is far and away better than the two that came before it; and like I said, this is unusual and welcome for a SF trilogy, in that most trilogies of note tend to have a spectacular first volume instead (which of course is why they got noticed in the first place), with returns then more and more diminishing with each subsequent title. Now that I've read the entire thing myself, I can confidently state that the "Jump 225" trilogy is one that new readers can look forward to getting better and better as it continues, and is I think a good sign that Edelman has a long career still ahead of him, after this fluke-like debut that garnered him so much attention so quickly. The entire trilogy comes highly recommended today, and especially this spectacular ending to it all.

Out of 10: 8.9, or 9.5 for science-fiction fans

Read even more about Geosynchron: Official site | Amazon | GoodReads | LibraryThing | Shelfari | Wikipedia

Filed by Jason Pettus at 4:09 PM, April 29, 2010. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |