by Walter Jon Williams
San Francisco : Night Shade Books, 2008
A Review by
Colleen R. Cahill
Mixing fantasy and science fiction is not new nor surprising as authors such as Roger Zelazny, Ursula Le Guin and Michael Swanwick have trafficked on both sides of these genres. In the best titles, the two will flow and weave around each other and this is what Walter Jon Williams has done in Implied Spaces from Night Shade Books. A book that is definitely science fiction, as super intelligent computers create pocket universes, it is also fantasy as our hero spends his time “wielding a sword in some barbaric world”.
The opening chapters of this book have the feel of a fantasy, with a man wandering through the desert of Midgarth, traveling only with his lone companion, a black cat, and coming across an oasis where caravans are trapped by bandits under the command of the “Brothers of the Vengeful Ones”. These dark priests, who practice human sacrifice, fight not with swords but with clay balls that eat people. All good, solid fantasy stuff. But even in these chapters, there are hints that deeper things are going on. Aristide and his black cat Bitsy, who can talk, are more interested in what is living in the desert and Aristide described himself as “a scholar of implied spaces”. When he confronts the priests, what he learns causes Aristide to head straight for the College at Womb of the World.
It turns out that where Aristide is really headed is back home to a far future Earth, where Midgarth is a pocket universe and “medieval theme park”. Aristide is a semi-retired computer scientist who helped create the 11 artificial intelligence computers that control much of humanities technology, including the pocket universes. His cat Bitsy is actually an avatar “of a vast array of quantum parallel processors orbiting the sun” known as Endora, one of these AI’s. What these two discovered in the desert of Midgarth was not a fantasy epic, but an attack on the entire human race, possibly by one of the other AI systems who seem to have a plan to take over control of all humans.
Implied Spaces is a great work and Williams does an excellent job of using the best elements of science fiction and fantasy. The main story line of a plot to take over the human universe is compelling and with lots of twists and turns, but what really kept me turning the pages of this book is it’s characters. Aristide is someone I would like to know and I enjoyed the interaction between him and Bitsy, who has just the right touch of superiority and sarcasm to be both a cat and a AI. It turns out Aristide IS a “scholar of implied spaces” which Williams explains and is quite an intriguing idea. Even the writing in this book is a treat in itself, with such memorable lines as “Speak softly and carry an omniscient feline.”
Definitely a thumping good read that is both entertaining and thought provoking, I recommend Implied Spaces for both the fan of science fiction or fantasy.