Nemesis | Alex Lamb | 2016, Pb 2017 | Gollancz | 551p | Review copy | Buy the book
Nemesis is the sequel to last year’s superb debut novel by Alex Lamb, Roboteer. This depicted the conflict between the people of Earth and the genetically-modified settlers of its remote and often illegal colonies by focusing on one extraordinary and gifted individual, the Roboteer Will Kuno-Monet. Nemesis takes place thirty years or so after the conclusion of Roboteer and so you could start here – enough has changed or is explained to make it perfectly accessible. But I think that to pass over Roboteer would be a shame – it is a wonderful, fun and exciting piece of science fiction that provides so much food for thought, not to mention a great story and an intriguing, unusual bunch of characters. The first book also helps explain the nature of a Roboteer. These pilots or engineers have the technology inside their brains that enables them to move into a different, micro world, which can take any shape they wish, almost becoming the robot they control, seeing what it sees, escaping the limitations of human life. Will Kuno-Monet is the best of them all.
The review below assumes you’ve read Roboteer.
Much has changed over the last thirty years. The interstellar war between Earth and the colonies has come to an end, leaving many people dead, including a fair few people that we remember from The Roboteer. Will is now the most powerful human alive, if he can be called human. He has been utterly changed by his discoveries. He has faced the biggest threat facing humanity, he has looked it in the eye, and his one aim is to deter mankind from doing anything that might jolt that threat into action. He is a leading figure in IPSO, the peacekeeping force that keeps an eye on all the planets. But after thirty years many people choose to believe that the threat has gone away and, yet again, tensions rise between the planets. Earth is in its last phase of being able to care for life. Its inhabitants want to get off. And the best way of doing that is by joining one of the many religious sects that dominate Earth. Herded to other worlds like cattle, they become pawns in struggles for power. It’s a sorry state of affairs.
And then there’s the force of greed. Out there on the colonised planets, now accessible to humans thanks to alien technology, are the tantalising, advanced remains of the Fecund, an alien race destroyed millions of years ago. It’s no wonder that IPSO, treated with suspicion from all sides, can no longer keep the peace. Nor do they always notice when distant colonies are obliterated. But when a far planet is destroyed by an unknown astonishingly powerful weapon, the IPSO and Will cannot stand by. Three teams, one including Will, are sent to investigate. One fear is that a faction is trying to stir up both sides to trigger another war. The other fear, a fear that is almost too appalling to consider, is that mankind’s behaviour has triggered another alien threat, one even worse than the one they all still dread.
Just like Roboteer, Nemesis moves its perspective between a number of key characters, notably Will, younger Roboteers Mark and Ash, and Ann, a captain of one of the other vessels sent to investigate. Others among the expedition are also given their chapters, each with a distinct perspective and every one with their own agenda. In this universe, trust has long been blown away. Propaganda and false information has distorted truth. Nobody understands Will, including, probably, Will, and everyone has suffered damage from the events of the last thirty years. This mission gives several of the characters the chance to mend bridges. It’s all too likely, though, that other bridges will be destroyed.
The narrative structure works very well dramatically in terms of pace but it is also a huge help in enabling the reader to keep track of the opposing sides in a situation that has got out of control. At the beginning, the plot is not straightforward and I did have to re-read bits and pieces to get a handle on some of the allegiances. It’s not surprising considering the levels of suspicion and paranoia.
Although there are baddies and goodies, and some truly horrific nightmarish behaviour goes on, this is not a simple story of good versus evil. There is good and bad on both sides, and it’s not easy to determine whose side we should be on – Earthers or colonists – or neither. The intolerance of some worlds towards other colonists and the religious distortions of Earth are both extremely ugly. And then there are the aliens. Is it right to blame them?
I did have a couple of issues. I didn’t find the motivations of some of the characters believable and, unfortunately, this was the basis for much of the plot during the first half of the book. It all seemed extremely convoluted and unlikely. Also, without giving anything away, some characters are not as they seem but I can see no reason why it took Will thirty years to work this out. The gap in years between the events in the novels works well. We hear bits and pieces about what went on during that time. But I also wished for more. This would have helped me to understand the characters of Mark and Ash a little better.
Above all else, Nemesis is a very entertaining action novel with some great science fiction. I loved the concept of the Roboteer in the previous novel and I still do here. There is some really intriguing science to go with the action, as well as some well-drawn characters, some great spaceships and some very memorable habitats and aliens. I want wonder from science fiction and this novel provides it, as well as a fair bit of horror, but most of all it is fun and put me on the edge of my seat. It is also a great size! I love a science fiction brickbook that I can lose myself in for a few days and when I finished Nemesis I was more than ready for part three.