Pros: Scheming, plots, and wild events that actually live up to the buildup; yet more depth to previously weak characters
Cons: If there were any, I was too caught up in the events of the story to notice
Rating: 5 out of 5
Review book courtesy of Penguin Group
Spoiler warning: If you haven’t read books one and two of S. Andrew Swann’s Apotheosis series yet (Prophets and Heretics), you might want to wait to read this review; it’s impossible to avoid giving away at least some of the developments from the previous books.
The godlike alien AI Adam is well on his way to his goal of forcing all sentient minds to worship him, to become a part of him—or die. The clouds of nanomachines that make up his consciousness spread outward through entire solar systems, converting whole planets at a time. Earth lies directly in their path, but the Vatican has made an unlikely alliance with the Proteans against Adam. Unfortunately, the Proteans are just as alien as Adam in their own way, and their means of saving humanity probably isn’t what humanity was hoping for.
At the lone planet of Bakunin, Father Mallory and his allies are using the fact that Bakunin is a low priority target to give them time to martial their forces. They have some basic ideas of how they might attack Adam when he comes, but can they really make much headway against a being so powerful? Particularly when it’s so easy for Adam to plant moles among the humans?
Down on the surface of the planet the careful balance of lawlessness has fallen apart since Mosasa’s departure, and one corporation has conquered nearly everything. They probably won’t sit idly by while Nickolai Rajasthan takes his allies on their own last-ditch effort to contact the ancient Dolbrians. Unfortunately, not only do they have to find the Dolbrians, but they have to get through the cult that worships the Dolbrians, the humans who want to control whatever’s there, and the servants of Adam who want to stop Nickolai. It’s going to be a long and bloody war…
There are several things that I particularly love about S. Andrew Swann’s Apotheosis series, and they’re at their best in Messiah:
- The science fiction concepts are an integral part of the plots and scheming, rather than mere window-dressing. The manner in which tach drives operate, for instance, is something on which many plot developments hang.
- You won’t find just one or two major plot twists here and there. Swann throws them out hard and fast. Every time the good guys take a step, they’re knocked back another. Every time it seems Adam has become unstoppable, another ray of hope peeks out.
- Swann has a novel way of depicting a uniquely wide variety of relationships. Now that more of the characters have been fleshed out, it’s much easier to appreciate this.
It’s rare to find a series that can live up to this kind of dramatic buildup, but Apotheosis manages it. If anything each book was a bit better than the last.
I want to say one or two things about the ending of Messiah, but obviously I don’t want to give away what happens. I’ll talk around it and speak in generalities, and if you’re super afraid of hitting spoilers you can go on to the next paragraph right now. As you might guess from the title of the series and from many of the concepts being dealt with, apotheosis (the elevation of a person to godhood) is a major theme of this series. Obviously Swann comes back to this in the end. I’ve seen this handled poorly so many times that I was shocked by how comparatively good this treatment was. I can’t help thinking Swann, too, has seen a number of apotheosis scenes in certain television series and face-palmed at how arbitrary, meaningless, or stilted they were (or all three).
This is one series in which the author is not afraid to make sweeping changes, to permanently and vastly alter his universe, and to take on risky topics that are difficult to do justice to. While Prophets started out a little stiffly with some info-dumps and somewhat weak characters, the series has steadily improved throughout, going from quite good to fantastic.