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Book Review: Implied Spaces by Walter Jon Williams

# Genre: Sword and Planet; Hard SF
# Paperback: 256 pages
# Publisher: Night Shade Books
#Publication Date: April 15, 2009
# ISBN-10: 1597801518
# ISBN-13: 978-1597801515

They are the greatest questions humanity has ever faced. Who are we? Why do we exist? What is our purpose? We live in a time of questing for the answers, a time of existentialism and pseudo-philosophies.

In Implied Spaces, Walter Jon Williams takes these questions and makes them the center of a story set in our universe far in our future. In a time when mankind has learned to create small alternate universes, universes that are now wholly devoted to pleasure and in which no person ever truly dies. Mankind lacks even the need to struggle, the need to solve problems, since they all appear to have been solved.

Aristide is a scholar of the implied spaces of the title. Accidental occurrences, the implied spaces are aftereffects of the creation of worlds, and Aristide’s reason for studying them is unknown even to himself. But over the course of that study, Aristide discovers, in a pocket universe created by medieval scholars and fantasy gamers, the hints of a malevolence bent on turning humankind into his dutiful worshippers. Aristide must turn his centuries of learning against this unknown foe, forced to fight him with sword and philosophy.

Implied Spaces is quite an unusual novel. It has the characters of a space opera, the science necessary to be appreciated by fans of Hard SF, the pacing of a sword and sorcery novel, and philosophy that would have been appreciated by Nietzsche himself. Overlaying all of this is a sort of sly winking humor coming from the author himself, as if he holds a hidden secret unknown to Aristide or the reader. When the reason becomes apparent, I think readers will appreciate the humor in it.

Williams uses the story to challenge some of our notions about the universe, and delves into the nature of what it means to be free-willed humans, humans who also happen to be on the verge of the Singularity. (Author Vernor Vinge gets homage in the book, when Williams calls it the Vingean Singularity.) Some readers may be surprised at the conclusions the story draws, especially about the origin of the universe. Of course, the intelligence behind the malevolence and villainy of the story is caused by one of the same old age motivations, but when the power of tiny universes is behind it, the scale is so much bigger.

The action never stops, and Aristide finds himself being at times a fantasy hero, with sword and shield, a political powerhouse, a traitor, a genius, a lover, and a space soldier and leader of men in time of war. Space zombies make a short appearance, antimatter too, and all in just 265 pages!

Aristide himself is a great character, who along with his cat/supercomputer friend Bitsy, manages to get into one scrape after another. Each time he comes out the stronger for it. His story is the only one we follow in this story, and Williams has chosen to avoid bringing in other perspectives. This makes for a tight story without the need to reiterate.

Causal sex occurs in the story (that is too be expected in a society with no physical consequences), but there is an emotional toll taken, especially for Aristide. But at the same time, it is impetus for the odd poetry of Aristide (a hero with a poet’s soul, in space? Yup, you bet.) Williams is a highly intelligent writer, and he often used words that force me to go to the dictionary, especially early in the book. Bartizans, crockets, and torii, are just a few of the unusual words and there are quite a few more. (These relate to buildings, by the way.)

Implied Spaces is on of my surprise reads of the year. I wasn’t sure I’d like it, especially when I looked at some of the blurbs on the back. They made it sound interesting, but not exciting. Implied Spaces is exciting, humorous, and thought provoking. It will have to be added to my favorite reads of the year so far, and I highly recommend that you add this one to your to-be-read list.