Monday, August 13, 2012

"Lost in Transmission" by Wil McCarthy

(cover image from

Lost in Transmission (2004) is the third in Wil McCarthy's Queendom of Sol series and a direct sequel of the previous book (see my reviews of The Collapsium and The Wellstone).

The Queendom's rebellious children have been banished from our solar system, forbidden to return for one thousand years.

That is, of course, exactly what most of them want. They want to be out from under the thumb of immortal parents. They want to be in charge. They want to have the chance to create their own society.

Living forever might seem wonderful, but as we've seen in the previous volumes, it can cause problems. If people never die, the older generation never gives way to the next. Those in charge never step down, so no one can ever move up to take their place.

This is an attempt to solve that problem.

But first, note that this whole book, like the last one, is just a flashback to the distant past. It starts (Chapter 0, this time) with a continuation of the situation we saw at the very beginning and very end of The Wellstone.

It's thousands of years in the future - more than 2000 years after the end of the Queendom. The Earth, Mars, Venus - all of the major planets - are gone, 'murdered.' The largest remaining world is Lune, a small planet created by collapsing the Moon, and there are only scattered scraps of ancient Queendom technology remaining.

I complained about this in my previous review, and I still don't like it much. I'm sure it's just personal taste, but I really don't think it was necessary. I would have preferred a simple, straightforward story. But it's a minor issue in a very good book.

Still, the main story is again just an extended flashback to the distant past - our future, several hundred years from now. (The Queendom was established in 2264, or thereabouts, and this is a couple of centuries after that.)

Anyway,... the Children's Revolt had caught the world's attention. Afterwards, the Queendom spent a decade building a starship and training the rebels to run it - and in the other skills they'd need to survive and thrive in another star system.

This was an immense undertaking, even for them. Most of the colonists would be stored electronically for the whole trip, and even the crew would spend much of the trip in a 'fax.' But they expected to live forever, so time wasn't a problem.

Conrad Mursk is now 25, and most of these 'children' are of similar age (the oldest is 45). They've chafed under the rule of their elders, and now's their chance to be in charge of their own lives.

But the crew ages on the trip, even when spending a variable amount of time in storage. Prince - now King - Bascal stays awake the whole time and is 145 years old by the time they arrive. Others in the crew have aged many decades. And it takes years before all of the colonists can be restored, since the colony has to be built from scratch.

So these 'children' end up in a situation not too unlike what they've just left. Those who've aged feel that they've matured. They've also worked hard to create this new colony, and they've become used to running things.

The other colonists step from the fax with exactly the same anti-authoritarian attitudes they had when entering it. No time at all has passed for them. And there are others in between, crew who were awake for just a part of the voyage, older now than the youngest, but still much younger than some.

In The Collapsium, we saw how immortality had ended career advancement. In The Wellstone, we saw its effect on the younger generation. Well, in this book, we see how natural these conflicts are, on both sides. These rebellious 'children' have aged at different rates, and that causes some friction between them.

This is a minor issue, but an interesting one, I thought. Most of the book is taken up with building a new colony on a planet that's far from ideal - and that's fascinating, too. This isn't a new Earth. It's just the best they could find within a reasonable distance from our own solar system. (Even for immortals, the stars are a long way off.)

And it takes a long time - decades, even centuries. Lost in Transmission is also about getting older. These people really were kids at the beginning - as I say, Conrad was just 25 years old - but although they don't age physically, they do change. It's all quite interesting.

And it's impressive, too. I thought I knew where this book would go - especially given that the whole thing is a flashback - but McCarthy is a better writer than that. He's written another entertaining, thought-provoking book here.

Note that I've only just touched on some of the fascinating details in Lost in Transmission. I've said that it's thought-provoking, and it is. It's also got the appealing characters of The Wellstone.

But it's definitely not a standalone novel. The first two books in this series can be read in any order, or entirely as standalone novels, but this one is the middle of the story. You don't want to start here (or end here).

Note: My review of the final book, To Crush the Moon, is here.

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