Pros: Gorgeous web of scheming heavily grounded in SF concepts
Cons: Static and repetitive info-dumps; some weak characters
Rating: 4 out of 5
Humanity and its brethren have spread to the edges of easily-reachable space, colonizing many planets and dividing up along lines both religious and secular. Strange transmissions reveal the existence of lost colonies in the distance, and the Roman Catholic Church is determined to contact them before the Caliphate claims them.
In those distant spaces, an unknown anomaly blacks out the stars and threatens the very existence of the colonies. On the lawless planet of Bakunin, an AI named Mosasa stirs in his web of data, the prospect of something he does not understand impelling him to leave his home. He puts together a team of mercenaries and scientists—including a couple of spies—and heads on his way.
The ensuing web of manipulation and intrigue is dangerous enough on its own: inciting battles, killing people by the dozens, and possibly even starting wars. But it’s nothing compared to what will happen when the nature of the anomaly is revealed.
S. Andrew Swann’s Prophets (book one of his Apotheosis series) provides a heady mix of intrigue, plots within plots, creative world-building, and explosive action. In the fractious world of humanity there exist three heresies, all outlawed due to past disasters: the genetic engineering of humans and other creatures; the creation of artificial intelligences; and the use of nanomachines. When Father Mallory—a Roman Catholic Priest and former marine—is sent undercover to find out what’s going on in the lost colonies, he comes face-to-face with all of the heresy he can handle, and then some. Even though several members of the team he joins are heresies in themselves—an AI and two descendants of genetically engineered warriors (one human-based, one feline)—they’re nothing compared to what he’ll eventually have to come to terms with.
The world-building is creative and thorough, including inventive use of FTL travel, high-tech weaponry, new and ever-more-fantastic ways of engaging in the “heresies”, and unusual social structures. The intrigue and complex web of plots exists courtesy largely of Mosasa, the AI—he was designed to analyze vast arrays of economic, social, and cultural information, and affect events by subtly manipulating small details here and there. The ways in which he goes about preparing for and setting off on his expedition to the anomaly fascinated me. I also loved the fact that the technologies became integral parts of the plot rather than window-dressing; for example, the manner in which ships travel faster-than-light factors intimately into several major plot points.
The characters were good but not great. I enjoyed Father Mallory, Wahid and Mosasa most; some of the other characters seemed one-dimensional or melodramatic. Also, there were definitely some rather static informational dumps. Some of this is tough to avoid given the amount of relevant back-story prevalent in the world, but it often broke up what would have been otherwise well-paced scenes. Also, some information got repeated too often as different characters became aware of it.
Despite those two issues, I absolutely enjoyed the plotting and world of Prophets, and have already started in on the other books in the series: Heretics and Messiah.