Billed as a "novel of the Singularity," Walter Jon Williams's Implied Spaces manages to combine a great many elements of the speculative fiction genre under one cover. The novel starts out as a sword and sorcery tale in the world of Midgarth with protagonist Aristide battling a great horde with his magical sword. When people die in Midgarth, they are "reborn" with none of their experience intact. About that magical sword Aristide wields - it completely destroys anything it touches with no chance of rebirth. However, when Aristide wakes in much more modern setting, it becomes clear that Midgarth is just a very advanced game setting, sort of like World of Warcraft for real. The setting and hierarchy of the world are depicted with a substantial amount of detail, enough to sustain a whole story and population of characters. Such is the universe of Williams' novel, as there are many such settings Aristide can and does visit.
In the "real world" Aristide is a self-described philosopher of the Implied Spaces, those portions of simulated worlds like Midgarth that the architects (human and AI) did not create, things that connect one thing to the other. If an upstairs is created and a downstairs is created, then the stairs themselves are implied and come into existence in these worlds, even if they aren't specifically created by the architect. It is more complex than that, and Williams effectively mines this for some interesting extrapolations in the novel
As with many science fiction novels, the nature of humanity is a major flavor for the plot and theme of the book. The plot being the removal of free will from all sentient life and theme touched upon throughout - what are we now, what will we become, will our future-selves be recognizable as humans to who we are now. Since Aristide is the protagonist, much of this conflict and discourse is seen through his eyes and actions. Since Aristide is a relatively likeable and snarky character, this aspect of the novel enjoyable. As he unravels the plot to remove free will one thought resonates throughout:
"Your observations of the universe have led to breakthroughs in astronomy, astrophysics, and the latest Theory of Everything." He made a wide gesture. "So what else do you want to do?"
After we've achieved all there is to achieve, as the case may seem to be once the plot of the novel reveals the time in which Implied Spaces is set is the far future, what's the point? The question, though not in those exact words, does recur throughout. It is implied in the confrontation between Aristide and his eventual antagonist. Another question, much like one posed in the Matrix films, is to ask what is real. It is implied that the universe in which this novel takes places is just a simulation itself.
Williams is a very smart and clever writer, Implied Spaces is great evidence for this. There are a multitude of postulated technological advances, extrapolated from earlier writers like Asimov, Gibson, and Vinge. He also throws in as many genre easter eggs as possible without giving the reader cholestorol, sort of like the perfect omlette of Easter Eggs. The novel will draw inevitable comparisons to Neal Stephenson's landmark novel, Snow Crash, which will hopefully not leave readers unsatisifed. Williams novel is strong on its own.
Although Aristide is the protagonist, he has an eclectic supporting cast - his AI familar Bitsy the Cat and his unstable romantic interest Daljit and Grax his ally. They could have been fleshed out a bit more, but the story really felt like Aristide's story. On the whole, Williams put forth a lot of fun and interesting ideas, but the pacing was slightly uneven in the middle portions of the novel. Despite that, I would recommend this novel. The ending is wide open for an implied sequel.
© 2008 Rob H. Bedford
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