Noumenon Ultra by Marina J Lostetter

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The third and last (I presume) book in Lostetter’s Noumenon series, Noumenon Ultra takes place mostly on the planet Noumenon, created by the megastructure whose construction was blindly completed in the previous volume. Life has evolved on the planet and the dormant ICC, abandoned along with the ships of the Noumenon fleet, is waking up from a very long sleep. And we finally get to meet the original builders of the megastructures.

Noumenon Ultra provides a generally satisfying conclusion to this series and, as it is the last book, I will be mostly addressing the whole trilogy rather than just this one volume. Noumenon is a remarkably ambitious debut series which, for the most part, is successful in those ambitions. The story covers time periods on a cosmic scale; its genesis began long before the emergence of Humanity on Earth and ends in the far future after humanity has become increasingly unrecognisable. Each volume typically encompasses many generations of characters which, for some, presents what is possibly the trilogy’s biggest flaw with insufficient time for the books to develop much depth to many of the characters. If the reader’s preference is for character driven stories this is probably not going to be totally satisfying. There some exceptions including ICC, the Inter Convoy Computer who is the only ‘character’ to span all three books; rather dry and sterile at first but, by the last book, it has acquired its own individuality and emotions. But the reader is probably best not getting too invested in individual characters as they are unlikely, with the exception of one thread in the second book, to be around for very long!

Looking at the big picture (and it is big) of the whole series this is very solid story and an exceptional debut. The science is largely plausible, in as much as any science covering such a large timespan can be so, and the concepts are both interesting and thought provoking. Looked at a little more closely, focusing on the detail, it does get a little more flaky and I felt that Lostetter sometimes committed to flights of fancy that might have been better set aside. I will just look at few, non-spoiler, examples. I struggle to believe that any human society would accept Logan’s Run style obligatory euthanasia on achieving a predetermined age. I see the logic of having such a system on a generation ship but I just can’t see human nature accepting it. In the second book one of the communities adopts sign rather than spoken language as the preferred method of communication. Whilst such inclusiveness is all very laudable it strikes me as too inefficient to be chosen in preference to spoken within an environment where people spend much time engaged in work that requires the use of hands and in space where much communication is done by radio. Again, within the context in which Lostetter first introduces it, I can see some logic, but it still felt too unlikely to me to be plausible. Lastly, in this third book, where we finally get to meet true aliens, I struggle to accept the idea of advanced intelligent life whose biology must be powered by wind or water spinning a wheel on their backs. I’m sorry but… just no! There were a good number of other details that I struggled with and, for the most part, they were not particularly important to the overall story.

So, there were many ideas where I felt Lostetter had let her enthusiasm for the ‘different’ get a little carried away and, by the very nature of the story, it has almost inevitably ended up being science and plot driven rather than character driven. This last was not a particular problem for me as I enjoy both styles and, overall, whilst the trilogy’s failings pulled it back top end four stars, it was still worthy of better than three. It’s a good solid debut and shows great promise for future offerings.

4/5 stars
 

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