INFINITY GATE by M. R. Carey from @orbitbooks #BookReview #SciFi
INFINITY GATE by M. R. Carey
Orbit, 499 page HC, £18.99
Reviewed by Pauline Morgan
Every day each of us makes thousands of choices. Most of these choices make no difference to the way the world works. Most of them are personal, affecting only ourselves. The butterfly effect suggests a minor event, such as a butterfly flapping its wings, can lead to a chain of events resulting in a catastrophic occurrence elsewhere in the world. There is always the nagging question that if something had been done differently, the outcome would have changed. There is the idea of alternative worlds where some events, happening differently, change the course of history. M.R. Carey combines all these ideas to imagine a branching tree of choices from the beginning of time. There are millions of alternative worlds, some of which developed life, some didn’t; somewhere, the dominant species evolved from simians and others where a different animal developed sentience. Infinity Gate is an exploration of some of these possibilities.
The novel opens with a relatively familiar world in a future where the climate is out of control. The lack of resources has promoted war for the things, such as food and water, which are in short supply. As humanity spirals into destruction, Hadiz Tambuwal has stayed with her research in Lagos, hoping to invent something that will help. As civilisation disintegrates around her, she finally creates something she doesn’t understand. At first, she thinks she has a teleportation system, then discovers her invention is a stepping stone into an alternative reality. Sending out drones, she discovers that most alternatives never developed intelligent life. With the help of an advanced AI, she eventually finds a world not much different from her own but with the resources she needs to continue her work.
Hadiz has found the Pandominium, a collection of alternatives which not only have evolved intelligent life but also developed Step Technology – that which enables them to travel into other possible worlds. Her activities haven’t gone unnoticed. The upper echelons of the Pandominion want to control the Step Technology and are hunting for her. By this time, she has met Essien Nkanika. He is an opportunist in his version of Lagos and is quite willing to be an occasional bedfellow for Hadiz as she pays well. When they are tracked down, Essien is forced to become part of the Pandominion’s vast standing army.
This is a crucial point in the Pandominion’s history as they have recently discovered realities where the dominant species is machine intelligence. Mistakes are made, and they find themselves at war.
The third vital character in the novel is Topaz Tourmaline FiveHills (Paz). The ancestors of her sentient species were rabbits. Her best friend is Dulcie, but Dulcie is not what she seems and precipitates a situation that leaves Paz fleeing for her life.
Infinity Gate explores a huge range of ideas, but Carey has the skill to keep tight control of all the threads. It also throws up complex questions, such as how to recognise sentient intelligence. It also reflects the arrogance of too many species who think they can control everything and think the only way is with force. Woven within it are also themes commenting on issues such as climate change, mineral over-exploitation, prejudice and governmental desire for power. All the major characters have flaws which add an extra dimension and a layer of unpredictability within a carefully choreographed hunt for Hadiz and Paz by the Pandominion.
This is flagged up as a duology, and many readers, like me, will eagerly await the second part.