3 out of 4 stars
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With moments left to live, a scientist named d'Jang composes a message to help others avoid his planet's mistake. He provides instructions on how to construct a channel through space, but warns that this will cause a black hole like the one that's about to swallow him.
So begins Ten Directions, a science fiction novel by Samuel Winburn. It is set in the twenty-second century where a new world order based on ecological rebalancing and repair is prevailing over the old forces of capitalism and socialism. Advanced technologies include access to information through neurovisors that provide a third eye in the forehead. It's possible to leave the degraded Earth behind and travel to other planets. The book examines whether this progress has brought happiness. In that connection, it explores the purpose of human life and the perils of pushing the limits too far.
The story is told from the rotating points of view of the characters. Eleven-headed d'Jang has only one chapter because he is bound for a black hole. We travel from there to the Moon, where exiled Mirtopik Com CEO August Bridges is on the verge of insanity and despair, grieving for lost relationships. His distance from Earth is causing Proximity Malaise Syndrome (PMS). This is also afflicting scientist Aurora, who is straining at the limits of her mission to find life on Mars before August's development plans destroy it.
She sends an anguished message to her friend Kalsang on Triton. As a Buddhist monk, he is one of a select few with immunity to PMS. While meditating, he sees and feels the demise of d'Jang's kind. Afterwards, he cannot forget them. The transmission is also picked up by August's assistant, a Machiavellian clone named Calvin30. While he's all too happy to relay the wormhole-building instructions to August, he strips away the warning about the black hole. To prevent the truth from being revealed, he must also kill off Kalsang at long range. Francesca, a Mirtopik security guard, is becoming wise to Calvin30's tricks. Her admiration for August could well prompt her to emulate her beloved superheroes. The launch of August's wormhole project triggers quite a trek around the Solar System.
The scope of the author's imagination was impressive. I loved reading about his clever ideas for future technology. He includes many details like the appearance of the night sky from Mars and what happens to hair, boobs, and vomit in low gravity. I welcomed the strong female characters, though the male ones had more dimensions. Despite many passages devoted to their dreams, hallucinations, and so on, I sometimes felt distant from the characters. This may be partly due to the third-person narration, but that's a practical choice given how often they face death. I enjoyed the lively dialogue and sprinkling of humour. This is an example from an exchange with an electronic device: “I do not understand what-the-hell. Would you like me to perform a search for what-the-hell?”
The writing style was vivid, the chronology was well-handled, and tension was generally sustained enough to make for a compelling story. A glossary explained the many coinages and other terms. With regard to the aspects I liked less, points were sometimes laboured. The book is quite lengthy and parts could be condensed or trimmed. Some aspects of the characters' development felt tacked on. I also found several punctuation, spelling, and grammatical errors. Weighing up the stronger and weaker points, I rate this book 3 out of 4 stars.
I'd recommend this to science fiction fans. It stands out from the crowd due to Kalsang's Buddhist outlook. His equanimity, kindness, and compassion are inspiring. Therefore, those who would like to see a spiritually evolved person in action might also enjoy this book. This book is for you if you are looking for an engrossing tale that really sucks you in (no pun intended). It may appeal less if you're looking for a quick read or if you don't enjoy seeing characters' mental landscapes in detail.
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