[ExI] The Simulators and the Theoreticians

Damien Broderick thespike at satx.rr.com
Sun Dec 9 07:18:35 UTC 2007

At 01:04 AM 12/9/2007 -0600, Bryan wrote:

>I am reminded of:
> > And it was Maralah who had tried to infect Ai and Pure Mind with
> > various ohrworms and informational viruses that would cark their
> > master programs and drive them mad.

<etc etc>

In case anyone is baffled ("Wtf?"), here's a 
review by Nick Gevers, Ph.D., Cape Town, South Africa

With War in Heaven (1998), David Zindell has 
concluded one of the most extraordinary 
narratives in SF history. What makes the 
Neverness Quartet (as one might dub War in Heaven 
and its three predecessors) so remarkable is that 
it is, simultaneously, an admirably ambitious, 
luminously poetic work of philosophical space 
opera and an interminable religiose wallow. When 
Zindell is creatively inspired, he is one of SF’s 
paragons; when his attention preachily wanders, 
the result is a shambles. Rarely has a major SF 
series been so rewarding – or so dismaying.

The explanation for this paradox may lie in 
Zindell’s ultimate source of inspiration. But 
first, in introduction: Neverness (1988) 
initiated a future history of intense complexity: 
thousands of years from now, the mystical Academy 
in the city Neverness supplies starship pilots 
and ingenious savants to a galaxy populous with 
humanity; the narrator, Mallory Ringess, is a 
great pilot whose quest for the secret of godhood 
leads him among cosmic deities and serene 
primitives. Neverness is an expansive, shrewd, 
colourful reworking of earlier genre material, 
boasting gnomic chapter epigraphs out of Frank 
Herbert, aliens a la Silverberg, stylistic 
exuberance after Delany, exoticism according to 
Vance. This alluring and allusive formula 
continues in the ‘A Requiem for Homo Sapiens’, 
the successor trilogy composed of The Broken God 
(1993), The Wild (1995), and War in Heaven; here, 
Mallory’s son, Danlo, must solve the enigmas of 
life and transcendence as he trains as a pilot in 
Neverness, journeys countless light years to 
persuade star-killing fanatics to see reason, and 
finally returns to Neverness to prevent his soul 
brother from corrupting all life and destroying 
the universe. Concerns of genuine import are at 
stake; the narrative delivers a rich succession 
of densely told confrontations, trials, and 
epiphanies. Characterizations are strong; 
settings resonate with history and with myth. 
This is all to the good; but the bad must also be 
acknowledged; and both can, as indicated earlier, 
be seen as resulting from Zindell’s chief influence. This is Gene Wolfe.

In his The Book of the New Sun (1980-3), Wolfe 
succeeded in many purposes; among other things, 
he told a quest tale that summed up all previous 
SF and, in so doing, proclaimed, subtly but 
emphatically, Wolfe’s religious Belief. Zindell, 
whose work often reads like an homage to Wolfe, 
has attempted, with absolute dedication, to 
repeat this feat. This helps explain Zindell’s 
commendable traits of thematic seriousness and 
sensitivity to SF’s genre nuances. But where 
Wolfe implies his creed, Zindell asserts his; 
where Wolfe’s theology is almost subliminal, 
Zindell blares forth sermons. Danlo Ringess 
undergoes interminable sequences of Significant 
Visions, rendered, often incoherently, in a 
tangled symbolic language, whose peculiarly 
impoverished vocabulary often seems to consist of 
little more than invocations of fire, stars, 
wind, sky, birds, and worms. So confident is 
Zindell that his advocacy of a kind of 
transcendent pantheistic vitalism is a necessary 
gospel to his readers that his judgement as a 
writer is undermined. His text becomes bloated, 
lazily repetitious. His message – the persistence 
and evolving continuity of life – is hardly 
profound, yet it hectoringly pervades four 
volumes totalling over two thousand pages. 
Zindell’s good writing is so good that he must be 
read; but the bad that comes with the good is often very bad indeed. 

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