Vast (The Nanotech Succession Book 3)
Bantam Spectra Books / 403 pages / September 1998
In some cases, a title has been so aptly chosen, it is almost a review in and of itself. Vast. If I were cruel (or lazy — lazier, let’s say), I could leave it at that, but that would give you no idea of the intriguing plot of Vast, only the scope. Vast is the time-scale, the distances covered, the obstacles encountered, the territory left unexplored.
Vast accurately describes Null Boundary — starship, lifeboat, and home to a group of refugees. Lot, Urban, Clemantine, and Nikko are a remnant band of the human race. Aboard Null Boundary, they escape from the threat of the cult/plague that has pushed mankind to the brink of self-destruction. They set out to track down the mysterious alien Chenzeme — last seen in Nagata’s Deception Well (1997) — bringers of the lethal virus that has caused the plague. Chasing their demons will carry them across the galaxy and burn up centuries.
The crew push obstinately forward, even when the chances of their own survival appear minute. Nothing matters but discovering the home of the Chenzeme and learning the reason for their eons of destruction. That and the chance to annihilate the race that made the humans orphans in endless space.
But, one member of the crew carries the cult contamination inside him. He, too, wants to track down the creators of the cult. The always present question haunts the survivors: can Lot be trusted? In a final confrontation, will he fight on the side of his fellow humans, or is the Chenzeme part of him actually in control? With no way to eradicate the infection, they exist in an uneasy truce with the all-consuming pull of the cult, accepting the risk to hold on to their friend.
With Vast, Nagata has fortified her reputation as one of hard science fiction’s most ambitious authors. Dangers along the way force the brilliant crew to devise evermore complex chemical, biological, and mechanical solutions to keep the ship and themselves intact and functioning. (Information technology professionals and dilettantes will be intrigued by the fantastical, and yet possible, methods of storage, retrieval, and application.)
Maintaining a story line along a time-line such as this is no mean feat. One of the little tricks that keeps the reader from straying is the skillful and unusual technique Nagata employs to deal with “jumps.” Pay attention; the turn of a page or scene break may signal a surge forward of days, years, or decades. A century may slip past while you stepped out to make a sandwich.
It is certainly Vast and the questions it addresses are no less immense. The structure and allure of faith, the importance of free will, the definition of death, the very nature and necessity of survival occupy their thoughts — conscious and unconscious. Whether tracking down the Chenzeme will provide any answers remains to be seen. And whether it will all be worth the effort in the end.