Paul Di Filippo Reviews Redspace Rising by Brian Trent
Redspace Rising, Brian Trent (Flame Tree Press 978-1787586581, hardcover, 432pp, $26.95) September 2022.
Brian Trent’s fourth novel is a plasma-propelled, gore-violence-war-and-politics fueled waking dream of a military-conspiracy-techno novel, as sleek and fast as an alien spaceship. It calls to mind a delightfully lunatic but irresistible fusion of such writers as John Barnes, A.E. van Vogt, and Neal Asher—along with one other seminal figure whose role I shall discuss below in more detail. Once begun, it will grip you by the throat—like its soldier protagonist grips his many enemies—and compel you to read it all the way to its jubilant, battered conclusion. And you’ll be very grateful.
Before detailing the book’s plot and nature, I should mention two things. In researching the author, I gleaned that his prior book, Ten Thousand Thunders (2018), actually kicks off this story, detailing the adventures of a certain rogue posthuman agent named Gethin Bryce on an Earth several hundred years from now, where the IPC (Interplanetary Council) presides over and dominates a well-populated Solar System. But there’s a large gap of narrative time between the events of that book and the plot of the current volume, and I had absolutely no trouble fathoming the whole backstory. In fact, nothing about the self-sufficient nature of Redspace Rising even provoked my suspicions. The book is boldly independent, although I’m sure readers of the prior volume will find it an enhanced experience.
The second thing I should mention is the main speculative engine of this tale, on which everything else hangs. There’s a lot of great wild speculative tech in this book, but the main conceit is the now-familiar one of recording the essence of people—brain/mind downloads—and then uploading them into newly fabbed bodies. It’s a kind of functional immortality, but the novum also lends itself to potent problems of identity, as well as a kind of time travel.
Perhaps the earliest fullest exfoliation of this notion was Varley’s The Ophiuchi Hotline (1977). Just a few years later, in 1982, Rudy Rucker launched his Ware Tetralogy that advanced the idea considerably. Along the way, Greg Egan got his brilliant licks in. But perhaps the most streamlined and naturalistic usage of the trope came with Richard Morgan’s self-assured and powerful debut, Altered Carbon (2002). The recomplicated adventures of its devil-may-care body jumper, Takeshi Kovacs, stamped the gold template for such tales. Retrospectively, Morgan became the guy to model yourself on.
I’m sure Trent has read all the above books, since his own iteration of this trope platforms itself thereon, then leaps to new heights.
Our hero is a soldier named Harris Alexander Pope. He lives on the Mars of the IPC future outlined above. But Mars has withdrawn from the alliance, becoming fully independent. Unfortunately, its rebel rulers, the Partisans, have since defaulted, as so many revolutionaries do, to their own brand of tyranny. So a counter-rebellion, the Order of Stone, has arisen.
We open with a great scene worthy of PKD, or his mentor van Vogt. Harris, a Partisan soldier, has just been literally killed on the battlefield, then instantly resurrected with the marvelous nanotech common to this era. But in the process, his whole identity has been reconfigured. He suddenly realizes upon revival that he has been a mole among the Partisans for twenty years, just awaiting his moment of reactivation. Now he’s back on the side of the Order of Stone, commanded to insinuate himself into Phobos Base and bring the Partisans down. Gethin Bryce, resurfacing after his earlier escapades, plays a part. Harris eventually succeeds after much ultra-violence, all vividly, inventively and hyperkinetically depicted, with flair and panache. (Harris’s gun, for instance, shoots antimatter rounds.)
But on the dawn of victory comes the unexpected. Harris dies offstage, and awakens in a new body, his brain installed from his latest backup, but lacking key details of how he died, etc. It proves to be ten years later, and Mars is a mess (spoilers omitted). The struggles of the earlier era have mutated, and Harris is once again tasked with setting things right through his martial prowess. But he finds himself involved in a web of treachery, deceit and double-dealing. Who to believe? The alluring politician Celeste Segarra? His own brother, David, now President of Mars? The AI-infested Bryce? In a careening plot that eventually brings Harris to Ganymede and a giant space habitat, Harris learns that he can rely only on his own self (no matter what body he’s currently inhabiting) and his deadly killing skills.
Trent’s prose—Harris narrates his own tale—is a sturdy mix of cynical tough-guy poetry (“Buildings sheared open like cracked geodes”) and delicious techno candy:
VR rigs afforded privacy that even AR overlays couldn’t; when you were strapped in, no one else could read your lips when you were talking, or deduce your virtuboard strokes when you were typing. And they also served as hardened transportable communication hubs with insulated matryoshka boards when intrusion-chaff screwed with datbursts, or when the enemy broadcast sense-impact siege-chatter to disrupt comlinks.
Layered on or under all the action are some keen insights and speculations on the politics of power, the nature of identity, and the future of the human species. Really, if the book had been more overstuffed, you’d probably have to download your brain into two separate bodies (as one of the villains does) in order to dig it!
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