We have a new series from Mike Carey underway. Whereas the Rampart Trilogy was relatively near future, this one has strong space opera elements to it. The tag line on the cover of Infinity Gate reads, “The War for the Multiverse has Begun”. You can’t get a much bigger canvas than that.
The Pandominion will be a two-book series which tells the story of a war between organic beings (the Pandominion of the title) and the Machine Hegemony. That’s a classic space opera trope, but Carey makes it all his own, firstly by adding the multiverse element, and secondly with his characters. We begin at a relatively small scale.
In the near future of our own world, Hadiz Tambuwal is one of a few scientists gathered in Lagos to try to find a last-minute silver bullet to stop the runaway climate catastrophe and save mankind. What she discovers instead is a way to travel to parallel universes. It is too late for us, but now Tambuwal has a whole multiverse to explore.
In a close analog of our world she finds Essien Nkanika, a petty thief and sex worker who dreams of a heist that will make him rich. Essien is way too stupid to grasp that opportunity when it comes, but he’ll play a major role in our story nonetheless.
And then there is Paz. Topaz Tourmaline FiveHills to give her her full name. She’s a teenage girl and a citizen of the Pandominion, a vast empire that spans thousands of universes. Unlike Hadiz and Essien, she is not an ape. She is a rabbit.
And suddenly the whole multiverse opens up beneath our feet.
The classic view of the multiverse is that new universes are created when humans make choices. Carey’s multiverse is bigger, because he has a wider definition of life. It seems that inanimate objects cannot spawn universes, because Lagos exists in pretty much the same place on every version of Earth. Plate tectonics has no influence on universe splitting. But evolution has taken different courses on each world within the Pandominion, and that includes the basic morphology of the species that has come to be intelligent on each world. There are intelligent races that are feline, canine, mustelid, ursine, lagomorph and many others.
This, of course, brings a whole new dimension to racism, or more properly speciesism, because these people are radically different. And yet, within the Pandominion, each one is a Self, an intelligent being with citizen rights. It all works tolerably well, until the Pandominion encounters a world inhabited solely by machines. It is a Columbus moment for the Pandominion, and like him they get it badly wrong. Unlike him, they get it wrong with a civilization more than capable of going toe-to-toe with them in a war.
By the way, how do you fight a war when anyone can step into or out of a given universe at any time? Carey has thought about that.
The core of the books appears to be the question of what counts as an intelligent being. Us apes, obviously, but also people like Paz, or like Moon, the feline Pandominion soldier who plays a major role in the story. And what about machines? There is a fascinating passage in which a representative of the machine world tells Paz how et and et’s colleagues struggled to work out whether the organic lifeforms that invaded their world were actually intelligent beings, or just an infestation of vermin. At the end of the book, Carey throws a massive spanner into that debate.
Given the current furor over pattern-matching software that people claim is AI, these books are rather timely. But they are just as important for issues such as animal rights. There’s a certain amount of biological essentialism in the narrative, but I think that only helps highlight how silly it is to pretend that male and female humans are separate species.
Given that most of the action is set in various versions of Lagos in different universes, you may be wondering how Carey copes with that. I’ve never been to Lagos, so I am not well placed to comment. However, he does thank Tade Thompson in the acknowledgements. Having worked with Carey on the Rampart Trilogy, I know that he listens well to expert input, and Thompson seems very happy with the end result, so I think we can assume that aspect of the book has been done well. The book certainly reads like it was written by someone who knows the city.
Overall, this is exactly the sort of superb work we have come to expect from Carey. I’m looking forward to the second part.
Title: Infinity Gate
By: Mike Carey
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