In the 40th Century, almost nobody dies.
Somewhere on a forgotten and crusty old moon, destitute actor Mohandas is picked up by a starship captain who is seeking offline adventurers for a very specific, and not at all legal, expedition. He’s a perfect target, really, off the grid because he can’t pay his taxes, and in need of money. So begins a grand adventure which leads us through many strange worlds, bringing the team face to face with what it really means to be human.
Dancing With Eternity is a book for the Facebook generation, but unlike some offerings such as Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror, or Ghost in the Shell, it looks at the more positive side of having a constantly connected society, which is a refreshing change. For instance, the notion of crime undergoes a rapid change, as any victim can automatically upload and share a crime being committed against them instantly with the world, who, by this stage, not only read or hear about the event as we currently can on the internet, but they are able to feel and experience these things as the victim does. Criminals can’t stay off the grid for long. So crime’s pretty nonexistent, which is nice. And the major influence of being constantly connected means that your mind can be uploaded, downloaded, reinstalled in different bodies. Nobody truly dies. Which leads to other implications, such as the fact that nobody has had to deal with true death in a very long time.
Being able to install a mind in a new body brings in other issues, such as the lack of need for natural birth. This has implications for feminism, the role of sex, and also, more disturbingly, for service-sector workers and socio-political issues – as people can trade indentured years of service for privileges in re-booting themselves, so on and so forth. My only hangup here is that there could have been more space for a discussion of feminism that covered more than second-wave, but to be quite honest, it’s a broad topic, and not only were a lot of themes tackled in the novel, but most sci-fi novels don’t even acknowledge this issue at all, so it’s an immensely refreshing read and a real positive that discourse of these topics is being furthered. What was nice about the implications for service workers was that this was not made the focus of the novel, and too often the temptation to make sociological and class issues the focus is too great for the average novelist to resist. There are many subtle reveals in what such a society would mean, and it’s enlightening to have them introduced alongside a marvellous adventure story which grabs and holds the attention – by the end, not only have you enjoyed yourself, but you feel like you’ve really been engaging in serious thought as well.
But to say that Dancing with Eternity is only for the social network generation is not entirely accurate. The novel contains many subtle nods to legacy sci-fi tales, and holds a lot more complexity than at first would appear, at times seeming like philosophical discourse, at others giving interpersonal intrigue, and at its most basic level is a rollicking good adventure.
What I find most interesting about this novel is that Lowrie has managed to achieve the feel of hard sci-fi novels, with hints of Anne McCaffrey and David Zindell, without going too heavy on scientific complexity. The complexity of the technology is achieved from a psychological perspective rather than by using computers – characters sync their minds together to pilot vessels, and interpersonal decisions are made through what are canonically termed the ‘softer sciences’ – psychology, sociology etc. This approach means that philosophical ideas, such as what it means to live forever, can be explored without the novel deprecating as our own technology advances in real-time. It makes the novel somewhat timeless, and in this I find echoes of Frank Herbert and the way he approached writing Dune – a world where psychology and religion took centre stage instead of machines and technology, meaning the characters’ minds could be explored more thoroughly and ideas could be more acutely expressed.
It’s also a very accessible approach. You don’t need to know scientific or mathematical terminology to read this book. And what is doubly pleasing to me, as someone with a scientific background, is that the science he has included is spot-on, particularly the geology and biology, and the science behind space shuttle missions. It gives a sense that the environments being described are real and plausible, which helps the fiction blossom. And there’s a really lovely bit involving forensic geology at one point which is thrilling to read!
I would recommend this book if you’re looking for something new and refreshing to read in a science-fiction vein. You will be pleasantly satisfied.
You can also check out our exclusive interview with John Patrick Lowrie himself here at Renegade Revolution, below:
We will soon be putting up details of the recently-released audiobook, so keep an eye out!
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