The Recollection by Gareth Powell
Throughout Chinese and Asian culture, you repeatedly encounter the idea of the need for balance. In Taoism, for example, the duality we term yin and yang envisages the world built on a series of complementary opposites. Within each system, a balance is achieved because the weight or power of each opposite is equal, i.e. it will never be possible for one to overcome the other. To that extent, they are simultaneously in binary opposition but also mutually dependent and, through that positive relationship, new generations are born. So, the metacycle might be life and death, with the subcycle of children being born from men and women. Within the group we think of as humanity, there’s a series of subsets representing good and evil, war and peace, love and hate, memory and forgetfulness, and so on. There are as many binaries as your imagination can create. Indeed, there comes a point when you have to admit the futility of cataloguing them since, as pairs, they are necessarily eradicable and ineradicable, and likely to remain so until Eschaton when everything ends and there’s a new beginning.
The Recollection by Gareth Powell (Solaris, 2011) plays with the idea of circularity and balance. Think of the universe as the view from your window. If a force inimical to life emerges, there will be a counterbalancing defensive force to preserve life. So, as a dispassionate observer, you could study the way in which the two forces ebb and flow. Some species may be lost, but others will be saved. To some extent, this will be random for who can predict where the rolling battle will next be played out across the immensity of space. But, as in everything else across the galaxies, there will always be new life emerging as old life passes away.
The subgenre we call space opera is acted out against a vast canvas, but these landscapes must always be peopled. The Recollection starts off on contemporary Earth with two brothers and a “guilty” wife in transition between them. In a different time and a superior technological society, we have another relationship in trouble. A woman is alone. Perhaps she betrayed her man or may be it was just a misunderstanding. The initial catalyst for the main action to start is the sudden appearance of gateways on Earth. The gulled brother is the first to fall through. Rather in the same way that Philip José Farmer played with gates in the World of Tiers, so these new devices are fixed-point teleportation devices between different planets. Some months later, the guilty brother and abandoned wife set off through another gate in search of the lost brother. In this narrative thread, it plays out a little like Sliders as our couple find themselves in different hostile environments. It’s a little routine and not very original. The motivation of the people they meet is also difficult to understand. It is, however, more scientifically credible than the television series because the reason why they never go back is an application of temporal relativity. If you violate the speed of light in moving from one planet to another, several hundred years may pass on the planet of departure even if you were to turn back through the gate immediately. They can never go back to the time they came from. They can only go forward, as if towards the centre of a maze.
In the other narrative thread, the destructive force (if such it really be given that it thinks of itself as The Recollection) heads towards that part of space now occupied by the humans. As always in these situations, the problem is how humanity should respond. The answer is all rather elegant with all the necessary components on display from the outset. It’s simply a case of the reader appreciating the significance of events.
Taken overall, The Recollection is a rather pleasing book striking a nice balance between the lives of individuals and the necessary mechanics of a space opera staging, i.e. you have to be prepared to accept some degree of coincidence and absurdity as the action unwinds. Although I think some of the flashback episodes are slightly too long in explaining exactly what went wrong in the relationships, Gareth Powell does succeed in making us care about these people. They feel real despite the enormity of the roles they are destined to play. The only slight fudge is as to how much of a villain Victor is but I was prepared to look the other way so that he can be redeemed and balance restored. This is worth reading if you enjoy space opera with a slightly gritty and occasionally noirish tone. There’s just enough on the plus side to make me interested to see what Gareth Powell comes up with next.