My path to this book was a meandering one. In my day job I repair computers: recover data, replace screens, cleanup malware, that sort of thing. A few years back a woman came into my shop when an external hard drive of hers had failed. Unfortunately, the mechanical damage to the drive was too extensive for me to be able to recover any data in my shop, so I recommended a place out of state she could send the drive to. This usually happens once or twice a week, and I promptly forgot about the whole encounter.
Flash forward to a few months ago, I’m walking through the local Barnes and Noble when I see a stack of signed paperbacks on the Sci-Fi shelf. Usually this happens when a writer visits a bookstore for a signing, or is just in town for whatever reason. They’ll sign their books on the shelf, and then B&N staff will slap those “Signed by the author” stickers on them. It’s a fun little treat for readers, and it helps to move the merchandise. I pick up a copy and flip it over, read some blurbs, check out the cover art, etc. It looks promising. Harper Voyager has been on my radar as a pretty solid SF imprint since they published The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet a couple years back. And this writer’s name is just really familiar for whatever reason.
I pull out my work phone and start googling her because I’m sure I’ve heard of her before, but as I’m typing it suggests a contact in my phone before the usual google supplied results. Wait, do I know her? And then it clicks. She must be a client of mine, so I pull up my client records and realize she came into my shop a few years back to get some data recovered. Well, that’s fucking cool. I’m going to buy this book and check it out.
Turns out, it’s pretty great.
The basic setup of the novel is that of clones aboard a generation ship embarking on a voyage into the unknown to check out an anomalous star. They’re thinking it might be a Dyson Sphere, or some new stellar phenomena. The thing I found the most interesting about this book is that the main setup is treated more as a setting than a story. In most BDO novels I’ve read, it’s all about the BDO itself. In Noumenon, the real story deals more with the clones, their struggles aboard the ship, and the difficulties and different yet familiar societal problems that emerge from this unique situation. The narrative is told through a series of vignettes that cover a few hundred years, or two thousand, depending on your relativity. Sometimes hopeful, sometimes dystopic, these vignettes build on one another to tell a larger story about humanity, nature vs. nurture, hypocrisy, prejudice, and the complications of sentience.
Some of these stories resonated more with me than others. I was also impressed with the scope of themes that were covered. In some ways I was reminded of the structure of Dan Simmons’ Hyperion, or the more recent Old Man’s War novels (The Human Division, and The End of All Things) built out of several stories or novellas. The comparisons to Alastair Reynolds’ House of Suns will also be obvious to readers, and some similar themes are addressed in that novel, but Lostetter’s prose and approach is so different from Reynolds’ that I don’t really find it an apt comparison.
All in all I’d say Noumenon is the messy, chaotic history between A and B and C. The history that usually gets swept under the rug, or left between the lines in the history books. It’s a terrific story, and I’d highly recommend it.
Noumenon Infinity, the follow-up, comes out August 4th. I’ll definitely be picking up a copy, but I’ve got to be honest, I’m going to buy the UK edition, because holy shit that is one gorgeous cover. I mean, look at it. Beautiful.