I was drawn to this book initially because of the character of Colin McAvery. The presence of a gay character, with a partner, in a sci-fi series. What I didn’t expect was that, while McAvery is central to the story, whose epic sweep covers thirty years in the life of the Ariadne project, he is just himself. My reading trends these past dozen years have taken me to books that feature gay characters, gay plotlines, gay context. That’s not really what Coatsworth does. He establishes Colin McAvery as one of the critical characters over the long arc of the plot, and never makes it about his being gay, or his relationship. Coatsworth does what sci-fi writers generally have not done previously: he makes McAvery’s being gay no big deal. It is a fact, ever-present; a fact of which we are reminded when necessary by the appearance of Colin’s boyfriend/partner/husband Trip.
This set me back at first, because that has been my reason for reading much of what I read for a long time now. Then I got caught up in Coatsworth’s startling vision; his scientific fantasy of a new colony formed by human genius on a failing Earth; a colony that could germinate and grow in the barren rock of an asteroid named Ariadne. The simultaneous brilliance and stupidity of humankind is the hub of this story, the squandered potential that gets put to use in creating a second chance for the human race.
The main cast of characters is not big, and only two of them appear in all of the three major segments of the book—McAvery, and Lex, the “World Mind” of the Ariadne project. Coatsworth has taken the contemporary interest in sentient AI and pushed it to its logical (fantastical?) conclusion. The author’s cinematic writing brings the world of Ariadne to life, and makes each of his characters as familiar as a member of our own family.
For a story that the author feels is hopeful, the carefully crafted cliffhanger of an ending felt terribly bleak to me. And yet, it is the beginning of a great adventure, and (of course) the first of a nine-part series of books. How much fun will it be to see this saga of human survival unfold at the hands of its gifted creator?