Tag Archives: Eric S. Nylund

A Signal Shattered, Eric S. Nylund

Avon/EOS, 1999, 378 pages, C$34.00 hc, ISBN 0-380-97514-9

WARNING: Given that A Signal Shattered is a sequel, this review contains complete spoilers for Eric S. Nylund’s previous novel A Signal To Noise. If you haven’t read the first volume… you don’t want to know.

Don’t you hate sequels? Tired retreads of a once-successful premise, shamelessly exploited for commercial gain? Scarcely original tacked-on adventures to characters who would otherwise enjoy a good, uneventful off-screen life?

Well, A Signal Shattered, despite following the events of Eric S. Nylund’s Signal to Noise, isn’t a sequel in the most vulgar of terms. It’s quite apparent that this is meant to be the logical conclusion of the events of the first book; a fully intended extension. Indeed, this novel begins scant seconds after the end of the previous volume.

Jack Potter is still stranded on the moon after Earth’s destruction. With him; a motley crew of monks, spies and assassins. Even though they survived the catastrophe, they’re still far from safe: their oxygen is running low, they don’t have much food and they’re all desperately tired. Within minutes, they’re also under attack by unknown forces. And there’s plenty of opposing sides, from Jack’s old friends to hostile alien forces…

It’s a cliché to say that a book was “breathlessly paced”, but this is indeed the case with A Signal Shattered. The novel never stops, as crises are piled over new developments and Jack must cope with everything at once. This eventually takes its toll on the reader, who must eventually take a break from this breakneck pacing. Even with Nylund’s best intentions, the book is still 378 pages and even if it’s constantly exciting book, it’s not a short one. Fortunately, Nylund’s writing is sufficiently clear to carry the reader forward during the whole book.

Fans of the first volume have certainly noted the ease with which Nylund played around with hard-edged scientific concepts, from biology to physics with a heavy emphasis on information science. This novel continues the trend, with Nylund even making a strong push toward Greg-Egan territory with the dizzying big-idea finale. While not as easily graspable as the ones in Signal to Noise, the techno-innovations in A Signal Shattered create a convincing aura of pure SFness.

More than just a simply good conclusion to the story begun in Signal to Noise, A Signal Shattered also marks the potential beginning of a major new SF talent. If Nylund can keep up the clear writing, the fresh approach, the easy familiarity with techno-gadgets and the good pacing of his two latest SF books, he could easily become one of the next decade’s SF stars. Though it would help to keep the whole story in one volume…

BRIEFLY: Nylund’s Dry Water is a contemporary fantasy that nevertheless shows his SF roots though an SF-writer protagonist, various classic references and a spirit of systematic extrapolation that underlines the best SF. Dry Water is unfortunately a bit too scattershot to succeed fully, bringing in disparate elements together instead of focusing on the strengths of the Really Interesting stuff. Impatient readers, for instance, could solely concentrate on the Larry Ngitis passages and skim the other viewpoint characters without missing much. Generally speaking, the book is at its strongest when strongly rooted in reality, which makes the various “Dry Water” digression more annoying than satisfactory. It also gets a big too big for its bounds, to the detriment of a nice yarn. Still, if not a recommended book, it remains an interesting one.

Signal to Noise, Eric S. Nylund

Avon/EOS, 1999, 371 pages, C$8.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-380-79292-3

Despite what naysayers might say, the science-fiction bookshelves of your nearby bookstore have never been so attractively filled with dozens of potentially interesting books. This diversity, unfortunately, has made it more difficult than ever to find the really good stuff. Today’s savvy SF reader must learn to negotiate the thin line between hype and actual value, between signal to noise. In this game of equilibrium, it doesn’t take much to drown out any potential interest.

That happened in early 1998 as I was at the local SF bookstore considering my next few purchases. An unusually-colored hardcover attracted my eye: Eric S. Nylund’s Signal to Noise. Unfortunately, the jacket copy began by claiming that the novel was the first instance of a new emerging genre—hyperpunk.

That was far too much marketing jargon crammed in a single word. I placed the book back on the shelf.

A year -and several good reviews- later, I finally bought the paperback copy, noticing that the “hyperpunk” blurb has disappeared from the cover. Strangely, after reading the novel I find myself in agreement that, yes, Signal to Noise is truly “hyperpunk”… or cyberpunk pushed to hyperspace.

Jack Potter is a typical cyber-protagonist: A young single male computer expert trying to survive in a world dominated by gigantic corporations barely restrained by governments. So far so cyberpunk. But the fun starts when Jack discovers a way to instantly communicate with aliens light-years away. The aliens are traders, and for their first swap, Jack gives them the human DNA code. They send back “an enhanced version.”

Shades of A for Andromeda, yet? Before long, Jack’s the Favorite Person of at least two intelligence services, two alien races, several venture capitalists and assorted other bad guys. They implant stuff in him, give him enough money to go in business, double-cross him a few times and wring him dry of any further alien trading results…

Intricately plotted and not without some occasional confusion, Signal to Noise signals the arrival of a potentially major new talent on the SF scene. This isn’t Nylund’s first novel (despite holding two science degrees, he previously wrote three previous fantasy books), but his first full-length SF effort displays a mastery of plotting and hard sciences that’s simply too intriguing to be ignored.

His writing style combines simplicity and density for a satisfying reading experience. His characters are believable, with some special attention given to the flawed protagonist. His plotting is filled with surprises, passing through a few paradigms before the large-scale finale. A few late-book choices left me puzzled (the selection of sidekicks, for instance) until I realized that Signal to Noise sets up a sequel. This usually irks me, but Signal to Noise can stand alone by itself. It’s my duty as a reviewer, however, to suggest that shrewd readers should wait until they have both books before reading Signal to Noise.

Fast-paced, imaginative and exciting, Signal to Noise is exactly what readers should expect from a good SF novel. Ignore the “hyperpunk” hype; this book is pure signal to the background noise of your bookstore. I really look forward to the sequel, and anything else from Eric S. Nylund.