Tag Archives: Sean Williams

The Resurrected Man, Sean Williams

<em class="BookTitle">The Resurrected Man</em>, Sean Williams

Pyr, 1998 (2005 reprint), 529 pages, C$28.00 hc, ISBN 1-591-02311-4

(Read in French as Reconstitué, Bragelonne, translated by Pascal Huot)

As a reasonably-bilingual francophone with easy access to English bookstores, I seldom have any need to read fiction translated from the original English. But occasionally, some titles slip past me, only to pop up years later in French translation.

In the case of Sean Williams’ The Resurrected Man, the oversight may be simpler to explain than most: Originally published in Autralia in 1998, the novel was republished in 2005 by Pyr, then a brand-new publisher with minimal distribution in Canada. Things have changed since, but not in time for The Resurrected Man to be readily available or widely reviewed in North America.

And yet, Sean Williams’ name isn’t completely unknown: In collaboration with Shane Dix, he has written a number of imaginative SF series published by Ace Books. So it wasn’t a complete surprise if The Resurrected Man proved to be so interesting. What was more surprising was to find out by way of a French translation of an American republication.

A hybrid between classic Science Fiction and police procedural thriller, The Resurrected Man has the merit of taking an idea, and exploring it until all the juice has been squeezed dry from the concept. In this case, it’s all about teleportation: In a future where instant transportation around the globe is the norm, a murderer is making copies of young women in transit, for torture and murder. When a man finds himself in his apartment after months in limbo, authorities are quick to suspect him of the crimes, and if not him, then another copy of him. It quickly gets more complicated.

One one hand, The Resurrected Man is a beautiful example of extrapolative SF. There’s an entire new world in this novel, a world that turns around a crucial piece of new technology whose facets will drive nearly all aspects of the plot. Williams is merciless in teasing out the implications of his imagined system, constantly racing past the obvious and not-so-obvious plot points. The idea that a copy of our hero may be the killer is brought up no latter than the first fifth of the novel, leaving plenty of time for stranger theories.

In lazy or inexperienced hands, this way of writing SF can be overly schematic: See novels such as Kevin J. Anderson’ Hopscotch for plot twists that are obvious from the moment the universe is explained. Williams, to be entirely honest, isn’t immune to dumb developments: The book hinges on a basic security flaw, explained by graphs, so glaringly obvious that it would send any self-respecting network engineer in hours of uninterrupted debugging: it’s a small wonder that it’s a tolerated at all in the universe of the novel.

But small nits aside, The Resurrected Man plays the extrapolation game well and adds an extra layer of geopolitical complexity on top of it: A refreshing mish-mash of cultural influences and non-American slang add flavor to the novel, making it fit perfectly well in this decade’s trend toward more world-aware SF. (I’ll note that several of the most representative books of this trend, from Ian MacDonald’s River of Gods to his Brasyl to Joel Shepard’s Killswitch, all come from Pyr’s group of non-American authors.) I was very amused to find out that bits of The Resurrected Man even take place in Quebec and my Ottawa/Gatineau area. (although, when Williams wrote the book, it was still called Ottawa/Hull.)

The Resurrected Man‘s checkered publication history let it slip past many genre observers, and that’s a shame: Slickly-written and well paced, it’s a novel that has survived admirably well the past ten years, and which holds up well to today’s more demanding standards. SF purists and fans of futuristic murder mysteries will love it; I, for one, am genuinely sorry that I missed it when it was republished in 2005.

Echoes of Earth, Sean Williams & Shane Dix

Ace, 2002, 413 pages, C$9.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-441-00892-5

All right, Science Fiction fans: Your wait is over. If you’ve been scouring bookstores and libraries for the next Big-SF adventure, this is it: Echoes of Earth, a spectacular, large-scale future tale with plenty of guts and a willingness to follow up on initial promises.

Admittedly, it doesn’t start all that strongly: In this imagined future, Earth has decided to explore the stars by proxy: Volunteers had their personalities scanned, copied and digitally sent to nearby stars inside an automated craft. (Shades of Greg Egan’s Diaspora, proving how the genre is evolving away from outdated assumptions.) There aren’t enough bodies for everyone, so personalities are downloaded in generic android bodies, ready to explore their destinations whenever they’re there. As the novel begins, our protagonist (an “engram” named Peter Alander, who nearly underwent a complete nervous breakdown upon arrival) is taking a bath.

Of course, there’s more. Somehow, a mechanism is activated on the planet they’re exploring, and out of nowhere, massive structures start to grow from the ground up, eventually forming -in a matter of hours!- not only a series of orbital towers, but an orbital ring around the planet. Investigating the event, our protagonist is blessed with “gifts”—automated, quasi-miraculous systems and equipment left behind by an alien race.

But wait! There’s even more! Peter quickly discovers that one of the gifts bestowed by the aliens is a faster-than-light ship. When the exploration team starts discussing what to do with that particular gadget, an automated “mole” buried deep within one of the personalities aboard the exploration ship is activated and takes control of the expedition, shutting down the rest of the crew to ensure compliance with mission directives. After some unpleasantness, Peter leaves for Earth—and discovers something very very shocking. Fortunately, an old acquaintance which has survived it all is (reluctantly) ready to help him absorb the new paradigm.

Echoes of Earth really hits its stride in this second half. The high-speed acceleration of Earth’s technological progress has radically changed the solar system, leaving deep scars. This kind of free-wheeling extrapolation is seldom seen in SF, and always welcome. The future imagined by Williams and Dix combines elements from other previous SF works, give them a spin and plays along with the results. It also helps that the second part of the novel is told from the perspective of a different character, giving an interesting take on the first protagonist, a deeply flawed personality that purposefully doesn’t include the capability to see anything wrong with itself.

It all accelerates in a scenario that would be highly unpleasant if it wasn’t told with the energy it displays. Suffice to say that if you like your SF big and spectacular, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more spectacular canvas than Echoes of Earth this year.

The only quibble I had with the novel -save for the unspectacular opening- was the ending, which seemed to wrap quickly and leave a lot of loose ends. I still might have been satisfied if it had stopped there, but it turns out that a second volume, Orphans of Earth, has appeared in bookstores as I was reading what is the first volume of a new series. Completists and singleton-lovers might want to temper their enthusiasm in consequence. Other might as well start reading as quickly as possible.

[July 2004: My enthusiasm hasn’t survived the reading of the last two tomes of the trilogy. While there’s a decent bag of cool stuff in these three books, it’s spread way too thin and never equals Echoes of Earth‘s portrait of the post-Spike solar system. The trilogy’s biggest problem, however, is that it’s all too easy not to care about the aliens and engrams characters. It certainly doesn’t help that Heirs of Earth, the conclusion of the series, purposefully avoids giving answers as to What Just Happened. Some scenes are spectacular (including an exploding sun), some ideas are nifty, some twists are intriguing, but the whole thing barely holds together. What was intriguing quickly became ordinary. It’s no wonder if it was published as a series of paperback originals.]