This is probably the most far-out, wildest sci-fi future history I’ve ever read. The singularity has occurred, and then some. It is many, many thousands of years in the future and people are pretty much immortal. Minds may be transferred with total accuracy between biological brains and machines. It’s hard to tell (for me; it’s a plot point in the book though that they are very different) where AI ends and humanity begins. There are a multitude of body types and even mind types; these are the new “races.” Invariants are totally logical, with a brain structure prohibiting anything else. On the opposite end, Warlocks are totally intuitive and spontaneous. There are large group-minds, which are throngs of people all joined together somehow into a single conciousness. There are Neptunians, which are big blue blobs that hang out in the atmosphere or out in the Kuiper belt.
Somewhat in charge of everything are the Sophotechs, incredibly advanced AI’s which guard over humanity. (At least, the ones who get mention in the book seem to care about us. Towards the end of the story, we realize that Saturn has been colonized by a huge number of Sophotechs doing who knows what.)
Fortunately for the reader, Phaeton is a member of the Silver-Gray school, which idolizes 19th century Britain as the epitomy of culture. Therefore a lot of his actions contain a familiar-enough reference frame for us poor, primitive readers. He has a pretty cool origin: he originally was a character in a simulation where he was a conquering warrior from a distant colony who destroyed the Earth. Somehow during the simulation he became self-aware (hey it can happen…?) and thus it would have been a crime to allow him to be deleted when the sim ended. So he got downloaded into a body and voila, new person. The simulation’s author, Helion, is therefore Phaeton’s father.
Helion is a Peer, one of the most powerful people in the system. He built a Solar Array to tame and control solar flares for useful purposes. Another Peer, Gannis, ignited Jupiter as a sort of second Sun and built a supercollider surrounding it, which allows the creation of exotic materials. Another Peer invented the technology which permits mind transfers and therefore functional immortality. These Peers are Big Stuff. Then there is Atkins, the only soldier left in a society that has evolved beyond physical wars. He’s kind of melancholy but at the same time wields the entire military arsenal of thousands of years and thousands of armies. (Although most of the “fights” in the book are handled in a split-second by dueling computer viruses or nanomachines.) Not one to mess around with.
Alright, so that’s a bit on the world building. Quite a complex society and difficult to grasp for us in the 21st century. Now the story. In the first book, Phaeton realizes he is missing memories and sets off to recover them. These lost memories are about his constructing a giant starship, the Phoenix Exultant, in order to begin colonizing the galaxy. The College of Horators, loosely the government, (the Sophotechs are in charge of the law and order type stuff) feel this is a bad idea, since some future colony may turn on its mother system. (Like the simulation which gave birth to Phaeton.) But Phaeton realizes that staying put in one system is a gradual death sentence; humanity must spread out, grow, and even be tested in order to meet its potential. (This line of thinking kind of reminded me of End of Eternity.)
In the second book, Phaeton gets exiled and has to make a comeback. The beginning of the book where he wanders the strange new Earth was much like the first part and I enjoyed it, but then there was kind of a strange change in style/tone. I kind of lost track of the plot, and some of the situations and dialog became more slapsticky which was kind of jarring.
Then in the third book, Phaeton has to face an invader from an older colony. Hmmm maybe those Horators’ fears were well placed. A long time ago, there was an expedition to Cygnus X1 which flourished for a time, but then seemed to destroy itself with great suffering. Turns out a rogue Sophotech-like being, the Nothing, from this “Silent Oecumene” is now poking about the Golden Oecumene. (That’s what the solar system/humanity is called. “oecumene (UK; Greek: οἰκουμένη, oikouménē, lit. “inhabited”) was an ancient Greek term for the known world, the inhabited world” Betcha didn’t know that.)
Ok, on to the third book… Lots of philosophy here. To defeat the bad guy super mind AI, Phaeton must …convince it that morality is absolute, not relative. Not exactly the set up for an action-packed swashbuckler. Throughout the third book, it is also hard to know who is lying – they catch the “big bad guy” about three times; each time it turns out he wasn’t really the big bad guy and there is someone else out there. But along the way they believe most of the previous big baddie’s story, even though they realize he was a fraud. Not sure why they thought they could trust anything he had said. It’s hard to follow the jumbled plot and philosophy in the third book; I’m not even sure what evil deed the Nothing was planning to do.
If you can’t tell, I really enjoyed the first book, kind of the second, and not really the third. Overall, I liked the world building, but the plot not so much.