This is a story set in the enormous on-line game universe of ‘EVE-Online’.
It tells the story of Falek Grange, a former leader in the Amarrian society, who following an assassination attempt, emerges with his old life in tatters. As a Capsuleer, backed-up with a supply of clones, he is virtually immortal and indestructible. The capsule is the tough shell an elite pilot inhabits while travelling through space. The clones exist in the event of a total capsule destruction. Assassination of such an individual is very difficult. A careful plot by Blood Raider Assassins killed Grange and then each emerging clone. The self-destruction of his ship just prior to the last clones destruction was his last hope. The final clone has a fraction of Grange’s memories and an opportunity to reinvent himself.
The crew of the Retford Salvage ship is the very bottom tier of EVE society. Making a living by searching through the wreckage of destroyed ships is a tough way of life. Captain Jonas believes he has finally made a big score when he picks through the wrecked Capsuleer ship. What he eventually finds is a confused amnesiac clone whose potential value is hard to determine. Events soon make it clear that this clone has a potentially vast value, if only they can survive to get paid.
Unknown to the Retford, Grange is the confidant and lover of Jamyl Sarum, the ruler of the vast Amarrian Empire. Her seemingly divine powers and army of fanatical devotees are sworn to return Grange to his former life of luxury and power. In EVE, nothing is simple. If you help one group, you anger another. Which group is behind Grange’s multiple murder? Why does it seem that hidden forces are behind the destabilising of Caldari industrial corporations? Why are political tensions building across all EVE’s races? Most importantly are these events linked?
This is an ambitious first novel for Tony Gonzales, released in 2008. The ‘EVE Online’ universe is well established and has a devoted army of followers. From a SF point of view, there is little to come close to its vast scale and minute detail. A novel set here has to be technically perfect because any errors will be picked apart like a newbie’s frigate by a fleet of destroyers. It is tough to describe the book without reference to the game.
EVE is set in a distant future populated by Earth’s descendants. An unexplained wormhole was discovered which linked Earth and EVE, but its abrupt disappearance left human colonists to form their own societies. Over time, the various groups rediscovered spaceflight and jump-gates to re-link planets. Human nature being what it always is conflict, politics and war soon followed.
In the game, it is possible to specialise in various ships and technologies. You can work as a miner, a fighter, a pirate, an entrepreneur or any combination of the above. The options and opportunities are almost infinite. The game’s appeal lays in the combination of economic subtleties and huge spaceships.
‘EVE Online’ has been around since 2003 and has employed a full-time Professor of Economics to try and map its markets and fluctuations. In EVE, there have been inter-corporation wars lasting 18 months and vast industrial espionage costing billions. Unlike fantasy games such as ‘World Of Warcraft’, player on player fighting and theft of property is acceptable, but with consequences. In ‘EVE Online’, there is a universe of pure SF enjoyment waiting to be played out.
The vastness of Gonzales’ ambition is admirable but there are issues. In such a vast universe, with thousands of characters and societies, he tries to balance detailed character development with getting as much of the universe into the story as possible. Inevitably, compromises in character detail results. Some of the individual characters are given a minimalist sketch of story. The large cast of characters often leaves you slightly confused and shell-shocked, more than once I thought, who is that now? This feels a little churlish, but if one cannot get a feel for a character it is hard to worry too much about their trials and tribulations. This novel and its undoubted future sequels have ample tales to tell. Gonzales’ writing style, especially when describing the Caldari industrial worlds, has a real ‘Peter F Hamilton’ feeling of plausible space-opera. There is a lot here for the quality SF fan.
Players of the game will enjoy this novel. Much of the technology used in the game is name-checked throughout. Many of the ships described will have been ‘flown’ by the games devoted fans and it gives a nice feeling of inclusion. It is not essential to have a working knowledge of the game to enjoy ‘EVE-The Emperian Age’, but it will add a nice veneer of experience.
If you have yet to play ‘EVE Online’, have a quick read through the WIKI
wiki.eveonline.com/en/wiki/Main_Page and then www.eveonline.com
Although be warned if you try the game, you may become addicted.
(pub: Gollancz. 517 page enlarged paperback. Price: £12.99 (UK only). ISBN: 978-0-575-08035-5)