Infinity Gate – Carey (2023)

msstice

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This is a very exposition heavy multiple universes story. Die hard fans of hard science fiction may enjoy parts and aspects of the story but most of the science is heavily hand-waved and some of the story lacks consistency. The writing has a distance to the main characters that makes it hard to empathize with them and their fates whether they are human, non-human or machine. I’m a fan of Hard Science Fiction and I think there should be more of it out there. There are some parts of the story that live up to the ideal of this sub-genre of Science Fiction, but not enough for me to recommend it.

I got my copy of the book from NetGalley.

Personal notes (may have spoilers)​

When we read Hard Science Fiction we are prepared to sacrifice character development and plot for a scientific “wow” factor. Ideally we shouldn’t have to make the sacrifice, but we are willing to. Sadly, this exposition heavy story sacrifices character and plot, but fails to achieve a “wow” on the science scale in exchange.

As an example that happens early on, when describing the key “discovery” that is the foundation of the story, we get a very detailed description of an experiment a scientist is doing. I want to like this sort of writing because it reminds me of Clarke and Asimov who I grew up reading. This approach, however, does not work without some attempt at scientific rigor.

Instead of rigor, the story throws together several pages of word salad of cosmological and quantum mechanical terms which makes the detailed description of the experiment out-of-place and pointless. It’s like someone found Merlin’s magical talking sword and made a big deal about accurately measuring its weight.

Unfortunately, the exploration of the key concept (multiple universes) does not rise above the vast sea of existing work and does not offer anything very new. Furthermore, some small details, like moving in the alternate world resulting in motion in the original world, look inconsistent and seem more a matter of storytelling convenience than an attempt to seriously explore tough ideas.

The story is further hampered by a distance to the main characters. In the first part, for example, the main character is the scientist making the key discovery. It is hard to sympathize with them and get into their skin because they are described mostly via dry biographical detail.

The artificial intelligence is described as having a few million lines of code, and deleting a few thousand removes the stops on some aspects of its behavior. It’s not my worst quibble with the book, but modern intelligent agent research has certainly moved towards neural networks rather than the complicated hand written programs used in 1950s AI research and such neural network complexity is measured in layers or neurons and so on. This description of the A.I. sounds anachronistic.

In this story there are token “woke”, “feminist” and “cli-Fi” gestures. None of these aspects are central to the story: their absence would not change the outcome and the themes are not explored in any depth, which makes their inclusion annoying and distracting rather than engaging.

Instead of this read:​

For multiple universes​

In terms of the specific subject matter (Multiple Universes) Blake Crouch’s Dark Matter is, as an example, a far more gripping and innovative exploration. Dark Matter takes a mind bending concept and makes it intensely personal.

For Hard Science Fiction​

I contrast this book to Greg Egan’s Quarantine and Permutation City which are stellar examples of Hard Science Fiction that sacrifice character development, but manage to have a decent plot and deliver a knock out punch in the science department. Written thirty years ago, both Quarantine and Permutation City still have me going “Oh WOW!” at the sheer audacity of the scientific ideas they explore.
 

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