Neverness, David Zindell

Zindell’s first, and so far, only novel, although his second is set to be released later this year. This is epic SF in the grand tradition. Epic? Yes. It is long (552 pages in the paperback edition), set on a grand scale (the main character works his way up from an initiate star pilot to godhead), full of esoteric musings on the nature of mathematics, life and love. Gee, sounds a bit like Dune, doesn’t it? The comparison is apt. Each chapter here starts with a quote, mainly from a fictitious book; the plot involves both personal mysteries as well as scientific mysteries; the plot centers around the only son of a “ruling” dynasty; and there are guilds and trades with strange and bizarre powers. But Zindell, for all these similarities, has not copied Frank Herbert. He’s also thrown in quite a bit of Brian Aldiss, Robert A. Heinlein and Theodore Sturgeon. This is not a novel for a first-time SF reader. It’s like modern jazz, in which the latest work is composed of variations on previous themes, and while the new listener might be able to enjoy it, chances are that they will have a difficult time understanding it.

The real problem with Neverness, however, is in its pacing. Some episodes seem to drag on interminably, while others fly past at the speed of light. Part of this is due to the fact that at least one section had been published previously as a stand-alone short story, and it may be true that other sections were written to stand alone as well. But, even given the above, this is an impressive achievement as a first novel. There’s a lot of imagination here in world- and culture-building, and the writing, while not spectacular, isn’t dry or stilted either. With some more maturity as a writer, Zindell could be a major contender.

[Finished 25 May 1993]

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