Sunday, April 4, 2010

Earth Ascendant by Sean Williams

Earth Ascendant opens to selective sabotage, phantasms, and explosive assassination attempts. Here, Sean wastes no time introducing the reader back into the fray of his Astropolis universe begun with such skill in Saturn Returns.

Imre Bergamasc, 'First Prime' and leader of a burgeoning empire, is seeing through his plan to forge the bonds between The Returned Continuum and the outlying systems yet to return to the fold. His whistle-stop tours have taken him on a journey of self-discovery and revelation. With his latest destination, Dussehra, seemingly no different from the other hundreds of worlds subsumed by his motley crew with their agenda of avenging the Forts and restoring the galaxy to its previous incarnation. But Dussehra's inhabitants are not so willing to be annexed, and before Imre can return to Earth, dark mysteries will manifest in the form of its leaders ... 

Although Earth Ascendant begins with one of Imre's whistle-stop tours, the book is primarily about Earth. Upon arrival into the flourishing beacon where the Returned Continuum has set up shop as capital, many changes become apparent. With centuries and sometimes millennia transpiring during hardcaster and space travel, the dynamics and structure of civilization can alter dramatically. With such a facet, Sean reminds us just how vast the stage of the universe can be ... and not just in the realm of fiction. Unexpected and surprising developments greet Imre, not least of which the revelation that he (or his previous self) might have sired a child. During his absence, Imre's old ally Helwise Macphedron has ruled as Regent in his place, something with potentially devastating effects.

With answers to unanswered questions coming thick and fast, Earth Ascendant is a remarkably good ride. The prose is how first-rate space opera should be: lyrical, philosophical, and poetic. It does the job of putting things into perspective regarding our own earthen empire, and how religions manifest and evolve. Truly unexpected villains greet us toward the conclusion as the story runs riot with Doppelgangers, parasites, and a broken higher intelligence. The third in the series, The Grand Conjunction, promises to be an epic thrill ride tapering off a remarkable journey that might well be the author's greatest achievement.