I have been mulling over Noumenon for a while. I was really engaged by the book, which was written in a smooth style with an extensive use of conversation, read it quickly and I thought about the story afterwards. (Some books have less permanence than bubbles.) It is upon reflection that many elements in story seemed problematic. At times I felt that I was looking through a microscope, an intense and absorbing look at character or action or the environment in the space ship, but at other instances in the novel the action and sense was blurry.
The story begins with the combined resources of Earth electing to send a mission to a discover what it is ‘that blocking the starlight in LQ Pyx’. It is anticipated that that the voyage will last 2,000 years and this influences the decision to send a convoy of nine ships which crewed by clones of the most appropriate people, 100,000 in all, who will, in space, be replaced by clones. In this novel a whole city is sent into space. It is a fascinating concept. I liked the way that each ship became specialised and, essentially, a guild; the location was enforced by the colour of clothes. I was not so convinced by the idea of daily ‘commutes’ for education or leisure between the ships. And there are many times in the story when one is only aware of a very small area and very few characters; it is like being inside one small company which makes the ‘city’ concept redundant.
The story is about ‘C’ who begins as a robotic personal assistant and evolves into the AI and the heart and soul of the convoy. I was astonished, and not entirely convinced, by the last minute tinkering by Reginald Straifer. The AI is the constant as the humans die and are replaced. Yet this closed environment is neither stable nor liberal; the author explores a number of difficulties arising from the isolation, the pigeon-holing, the lack of belief, conflict and illness but sometimes at the expense of building engaging characters.
I was enthralled by the description of the encounter with the ‘encrusted star’ and thought Lostetter created a magnificent spacescape and I like the human interaction with it.
I thought the Warden and the creation of an exploited mining population, shades of Rome’s use of slaves in its lead mines, was the weakest section of the novel. It does give Rail, was the aptness of the name deliberate, an opportunity to proclaim in a moving and passionate speech the unique quality of an individual, even a cloned individual. But it was a rather clunky arrangement.
The most thought provoking section of the novel was about the return to Earth. Nothing occurs as expected. Indeed, devoting a quarter of a science fiction novel to what happens after the mission is completed is unusual, and the analysis of the lack of alignment between those that left and those that stayed leaves enough gaps for the reader to imaginatively enlarge upon the difficulties. I think too that we meet the most interesting character in Esper.
Do I recommend Noumenon? Yes, I do. I will definitely read it again.