Review: Resolution of Stars by Martyn Rhys Vaughan
If we had but sensors sensitive enough to measure such things we’d probably be able to locate the epicentre of production of speculative fiction in Wales. It would probably be in the Newport area where the indefatigable and ever productive Martyn Rhys Vaughan has now written his sixth novel, full of plausible science, monstrous rats and trans-galactic adventuring.
Resolution of Stars picks up where its prequel Doom of Stars left off with, if not the Big Bang then a very big bang indeed as the mighty planet Jupiter closed in for collision with earth. It starts as the story of two primitive humans, Karn and Yarl, who live in a world, or rather the World, where people feed off fungal broths and society is mindlessly patriarchal. Despite their falling out as a result of sexual betrayal – Karn comes home early from a hard day’s work at the fungi tanks to find his friend in flagrante delicto with his woman – they sally forth to find a way out of their homeland, where their sun is dying, eventually finding a door that allows them passage into a place very much unlike their own home.
Yarl doesn’t survive very long in this 24th century story as he’s soon torn apart by vicious rodents and Resolution of Stars soon morphs into the tale of Karn’s relationship with Maia, a superior, more highly evolved human. They travel together into the bowels of the earth, to Subterra, which is heated by its proximity to the planet’s semi-molten mantle and eventually find a way to reach the ultra-cold surface where oxygen is frozen into dangerous, tentative landscapes. Along the way Karn and Maia have a frightening encounter with Eater, a genetically manipulated carnivore which is:
a deliberate melange of all the characteristics humans find repulsive. I displayed features of the reptile, the arachnid, the mantidae, the chilopoda, all skilfully combined into one horrific but highly efficient package.
Compound eyes stared back at her, mandibles chomped, pincers snapped, a red toothed tongue flicked in and out of dripping jaws. The thing appeared to have more than one orifice for the purpose of eating.
As if confronting this fearful beast wasn’t enough they also have to deal with the duplicities of The Council of Three, a trio of shrunken creatures who control the harvesting of blood and plasma from their underground subjects in order to keep themselves alive. Their travels are like a galactic game of snakes and ladders where there are no ladders.
Along their journey we find out more about Maia’s backstory – how her consciousness was preserved in order to survive the Doom of Stars – and was then subsequently provided with a home in a synthetic body. But the space journey she was on was much, much longer than originally planned for, so bodily decay has well and truly settled in, and she shows signs of incipient madness. Maia thus has episodes of complete confusion, often at quite the worst moment, adding to the already myriad challenges of her quest to find someone who can meld or marry her faltering, flickering awareness to a proper body once again. Time is running out for her and her faithful companion Karn can only watch her dissolution with a sense of matching helplessness.
As with Vaughan’s previous work in books such as Quantum Exile, The Cave of Shadows and Hideous Night the central story in Resolution of Stars is furnished with a good deal of the apparatus and nomenclature of science, with star maps peppered with wormholes and black holes and a narrative featuring red giants, humanoid automata and bioscience-created menageries. These often help propel great leaps of speculation, as the author hurls his fictional charges hundreds of thousands of years into the future where so much in uncertain. Here we find artificial neurons, talking computers and there is the ‘familiar sting of triatomic oxygen in the air’ in a world where some humans have evolved along very different trajectories but yet manage to explore the boundaries of love as well as those of adjoining galaxies.
Resolution of Stars is a ripping space yarn set way, way, way into the future where the universe is out of equilibrium. By now the human species has tried many ways to deal with impending catastrophe from sending out arks into space or burrowing deep underground. This is a novel about escapism with the emphasis very much on escape, as our human and part-synthetic heroines and heroes struggle on and on, in what is ever the human way, as we search for a path through stars both fiercely bright and terminally dimming.
Resolution of Stars is published by Llyfrau Cambria Books. You can buy it from good bookshops or you can buy a copy here…
Support our Nation today
For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.