If you like your science fiction epic in scope, with hard science mixed with philosophical, existential pondering about the ultimate meaning of the universe and life, and if you like to read novels that are not afraid to ask the Big Questions and attempt to answer them, Implied Spaces by five-time Hugo nominee Walter Jon Williams is a book you’re sure to want to add to your reading list. It’s a novel that will likely also be nominated and be a strong contender to win this year’s award.
Aristide, never far from his talking black-and-white cat Bitsy, is the hero of the novel. He has lived for 1500 years in various incarnations, awakening from Pools of Life on man-made planets in man-made “pocket universes” that he helped to create with a handful of other scientists and the Eleven, massive planetoid-sized AI computers that they designed, built, and programmed. It is largely an idyllic life in which backups of people are stored and a person can decide what body type he/she would like to be reincarnated in. The Eleven watch over humans and are vital in the creation of new pocket universes and in the day-to-day lives of billions of humans spread out over a multitude of planets. What, to paraphrase West World, could possibly go wrong?
It turns out, as in West World, that plenty can go wrong. At the start of Implied Spaces, Aristide is caught up in an entertaining, role-playing sort of adventure on the planet Midgarth, inhabited by trolls, orcs, satyrs, wizards, humans, etc. - a planet specifically created for gamers. Bitsy is an avatar of one of the Eleven, one that Aristide (aka Pablo) has the closest relationship with, named Endora. He possesses a most formidable weapon in the broadsword Tecmessa, made by Endora especially for him. When Aristide waves it at a person or object, there sounds a crack like thunder, and the offending person or thing disappears, relegated to another universe.
While investigating various implied spaces on Midgarth, spaces an architect doesn’t plan but just seem to happen as an implied “accident” (they’re called “squinches”, like the triangles between arches that support domes, for example), Aristide gets embroiled in a conflict involving bandits who serve a god demanding human sacrifices who, according to the relatively minor character Masoud the Infirm, “capture whole caravans, over a dozen so far, and nothing is heard from the captives ever again.”
The bandits do the bidding of a mysterious group of priests who work for the powerful god Venger, sometimes also called Vindex. Somehow, the priests can alter the brain of people while they’re being incarnated in the Pools of Life, to transform them into loyal followers of Venger. They also have clay bolo-like balls that are an organic part of their hands; when twirled about and aimed, they act identically to Tecmessa, banishing resistors and captives to parts unknown to be reprogrammed to be faithful servants of Venger.
What’s going on at Midgarth is just a test run of what the Venger plans to do to all planets inhabited by humans. Whoever the Venger, or Vindex, is, Aristide, Bitsy, and Daljit, an old flame of Aristide’s reincarnated in a beautiful young body who is also one of the brilliant team of scientists who designed the Eleven and the pocket universes, they reason it can’t be planning such a large-scale endeavor without the aid of at least one of the Eleven, who has somehow become a renegade going against the Asimovian Protocols. But, which one is it, and how can the Vindex be stopped from unleashing zombie plagues, causing interplanetary warfare, and subjecting all of mankind to his yoke?
Implied Spaces deals with subjects like the Existential Crisis, nanobots, reincarnation, and what it is that makes each of us who we are, despite what form we may inhabit. What things were meant be the architect or architects of the Big Bang, and which things occurred as a sort of happy accident, implied by the things that the architect(s) intended to create? Jon Walter Williams hits it out of the ballpark with this one; Implied Spaces is destined to be considered a classic of science fiction. Highly recommended.