Thursday, June 21, 2007

By Barrington J. Bayley

I was trolling about the internet one day when I should have been working and I came across the Cheap Truth summary of Barrington J. Bayley’s science fiction. I thought anything described as the “literary equivalent of psilocybin” by the “Zen master of space opera” can’t be all bad.

Actually it’s a lot better! Comparisons with William S. Burroughs aside, this is space opera of a high order. The Pillars of Eternity is grand, fast paced, full of high adventure, and high ideas. Try to imagine Seneca the Stoic starring in a cross between The Maltese Falcon and The DaVinci Code crafted by Doc Smith and you might get the idea.

The hero, Joachim Boaz, starts life as a crippled street-urchin. He encounters a sect of philosophers who rebuild him into a cybernetic superman. But when Boaz is crippled in an alchemy lab accident, he is rebuilt again as a symbiote with his spaceship, literally a cybernetic organism (κυβερνητης means shipmaster). He is also emotionally crippled. There’s a little matter of a lost planet with the galaxy’s most powerful treasure, government assassins who leave calling cards, a computerized version of the Kray twins, and a fad for getting killed as a kinky thrill. All that in 160 pages.

Pillars of Eternity is what they meant when they coined the phrase “new baroque space opera”. I just call it exciting, thought-provoking, and adventurous.

-Dave Hardy

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