This Quintessence of Dust: Walter Jon Williams’ “Implied Spaces” (2008)

There is more to Walter Jon Williams’ Implied Spaces: A Novel of the Singularity (published by Night Shade Books) than meets the eye. Described by the author as “Swords and Singularity,” the novel at first seems to be one of those stories like Tad Williams’ Otherland and Christopher Stasheff’s The Warlock In Spite of Himself series that present fantasy universes within external science-fiction frameworks. In other words, people from the outside world visit a fantasy planet, dimension, what have you whose inhabitants believe their world to be run by magic when in fact there is a scientific explanation, whether it be psionics, virtual reality, or something else all together. Similarly, at the start of Implied Spaces, we are on the world of Midgarth–a place that features Tolkien and Dungeons and Dragons-style conceits (orcs, trolls, etc.) in an Arabian-influenced milieu–and are instantly introduced to Aristide, a strange, witty swordsman with a magical sword, Tecmessa, and sarcastic talking cat, Bitsy. Although Midgarth’s denizens treat him as a sorcerer, it soon becomes clear that he is from a different place and time all together and, further, that Midgarth has been artifically constructed.

Because of the aforementioned novels that begin in a fairly similar fashion, I was pretty sure I knew where Implied Spaces was going. Midgarth was obviously either an elaborate video game, a holographic projection, or a weird planet inhabited by fantasy gamers. I was surprised to discover a rather different explanation. In fact, I hesitate to reveal too much about the plot, because so much of the fun of it is being thrown for a loop as to where it could possibly be going next. The novel never fails to proceed in anything less than a completely unexpected fashion and yet, by the end, it all comes together textually and thematically thanks to a shocking revelation in the last third that casts a new light on all that has come before it, elevating it all to an even more impressive level. What is most admirable about Williams’ work is that he has crafted a snappy, fast-paced novel that is as light and easy to read as pulp but grapples with philosophical and even theological dilemmas one might not expect to find in such a deceptively simple package.

What makes Implied Spaces particularly unique is its universe and technology. One of its main conceits is that, in the future, humans will have conquered death. All information in a human’s brain can be backed up like the data on any computer and downloaded into a new body, or several, if so desired. Further, the bodies can look however the person might wish, and we’re not just speaking about age. Do you want to switch genders? You can. Do you want to have fins and gills? No problem. Further, with the help of super computers, humans can create countless worlds to live on, suited to their every whim. This, however, has led the majority of humanity to sink into an Existential Crisis. When you live forever, and can mold yourself and your world into absolutely anything you might desire–when you have, effectively, become your own god–but still have no idea why you exist and what your ultimate purpose is, a feeling of emptiness can set in. What will mostly likely stick with me longest from Implied Spaces is its question of what makes a person a person. Is it the body? Is it the mind? Once humans have evolved past mortality and any previous constraints of place and even their very bodies, are they still human anymore, or are they something completely new? It is to Implied Spaces‘ credit that it presents these ideas in a throughly unpretentious manner that never sacrifices concept for character or plot.

Instead, Implied Spaces zips along, sampling from various genres–Sword and Sorcery, fantasy epic, hardcore sci-fi involving temporal physics, space opera, cyberpunk, time travel, even indulging in a zombie apocalypse at one point–while developing a fascinating world and a compelling protagonist who is full of surprises up until the very end. Simply put, Implied Spaces is truly fantastic sci-fi–funny, involving, and most importantly, not quite like anything else I’ve ever read.

This review first appeared, in slightly altered form, on Rob Will Review.

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Author: Robert Berg

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