Sister AliceTor, HC, © 2003, 316 pp, ISBN #0-765-30225-X
Reviewed February 2005
Sister Alice is another entry in the burgeoning subgenre of stories about humans evolving past the technological singularity, but still interacting with "conventional" humans (an arena which Charles Stross - among others - is also playing in).
In the future, humanity averts self-destruction by choosing a group of individuals to form the "families" - keepers of the peace and those who help advance humanity in a safe manner. Though supremely powerful, members of each family is cloned from its progenitor and all retain traditional human appearance. Millions of years later, Earth has become little more than a land where the families raise their youngest members until after a few thousand years they're mature enough to take on true responsibilities. Ord is the youngest member of the Chamberlain family, one of the noblest and most productive families.
Ord's young life - he's only 50 - is interrupted when the 12th oldest chamberlain - Sister Alice - arrives on Earth from the galactic core. It turns out that she and some other powerful family members have accidentally caused a galactic disaster, resulting in the deaths of billions. While others try to contain the catastrophe, Alice offers herself up to the authorities as a scapegoat - an offer they're all too happy to accept. But she also contacts Ord and advises him to seek out her brother Perfect, which he does. Perfect takes Ord on an odyssey into his own and Alice's past accomplishments, before empowering Ord to take his own actions to continue Alice's plan. A tall order, since every family which had been involved in the Core disaster have been disbanded and dismantled.
The first half of the book is the best, as Ord interacts with his peers and some family members who are only a few hundred years old - well within his and our comprehension. It's also not implausible that Alice would effectively "dumb herself down" so mere mortals can meaningfully perceive and talk with her. The process of educating members of the families is more hinted at than truly shown, and I would have enjoyed seeing more of it. The rebellious Brother Perfect is also entertaining, having in chosen to remain close to baseline humanity in many ways, and he effectively bridges the gap between humans like Ord and superhumans like Alice.
The second half of the book, however, runs afoul of too many gods running around the cosmos - anything can happen, it usually does, and it often doesn't make a lot of dramatic sense. Ord becomes a roving do-gooder, often glimpsed, rarely encountered, but a sort of bogeyman to those families who dismantled the Chamberlains and other Core participants. But ultimately Ord is carrying out Alice's plan to repair the damage done at the core, and the method by which this is accomplished ends up just being a large and rather metaphysical confrontation between groups of godlike beings. The texture of Reed's galaxy is largely lost to this story, and it became very difficult to care about the characters or even their goals. Everything is just too big and too distant, and the final conclusion felt emotionally void to me. I would by no means say that it felt lazy, it just detached itself from the elements of the story which I'd been enjoying, and I didn't have anything left to hook into to really feel for anyone in the story.
So I felt that Sister Alice had some interesting components which used differently could make for a good exploration of a human/posthuman society, but the plot presented here went off into different directions and it just didn't work for me.
hits since 20 February 2005.
|© 2005 Michael Rawdon (firstname.lastname@example.org) http://www.leftfield.org/~rawdon/|