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Enigma (Trigon Disunity) Review


Galactic civilization and exploration is usually exciting enough on its own, but in Enigma by Michael P. Kube-McDowell, a great mystery lies at the heart of humanity’s progress to the stars: why is the galaxy inhabited by the scattered colonies of humans, first discovered by explorers at the end of the previous book, Emprise? How did an interstellar technological civilization rise on Earth, then fade away without a trade: Why are the discovered colonies almost all of such a low technological level? Even at the heart of the technology, how does the trade technology that provides for FTL travel work, when its deeper mechanisms are such a great mystery, unexplained by theory? Truly an enigma.\

The story revolves around Merett Thackery, a member of the Survey Corps, tasked with the discovery of new planets and above all else to discover lost colonies of humanity. This is a challenging mission, since it relies upon discovering alien cultures, understanding them, and learning their language to facilitate contact and bring them into relation with the rest of the human family. This alone would make the book a great piece of science fiction, since Michael P. Kube-McDowell, is attuned to the legitimate possibilities for profound cultural difference, which excellently explored in the first contact upon Gnivi, where the survey corps completely misreads the local balance of power and social dynamics. At times this can become macabrely fascinating, such as the dead on the world, their heads bored to let out their spirits, their bodies hung in trees to release their souls, spirited away by the winds: a way of honoring the dead that shocks and horrifies the Terrans.

Michael P. Kube-McDowell, is a great sculptor of characters and emotions. The life and influence of Thackery’s mother Andrea upon him, as he had to come to grips with his own personhood and not merely following the path and desire that she had laid out for him, and the relationship between them is something which influence's the entire trajectory of Thackery’s life. And the interpersonal relationships on the ship, between Thackery and Seabright, or between Thackery and captain Neale, are excellently well done, a great dynamic of both personal relations and also objective that the characters have. They feel real, intense, and flawed, and they inspire the passions of the read. And they are capable of a dramatic reinterpretation of themselves, such as Neale’s plot arc. ‘

The FLT tech used in the book is another excellent feature. It makes it clear in the book that the deeper mechanisms and theories are not understood, but it presents clear and simple principles of the push-pull factor of gravitational fields which enable ships to surpass the lightspeed barrier and the protective field to shield them from cosmic debris. But most key for the story is the way that space time continues to function: the space ship is a time machine to the future, so that voyagers of a few weeks can mean centuries back in the non-”crazed” world, as is the term for the effects of a ship when it accelerates pas the speed of light and finds itself cut off from the rest of the universe. To craze is to isolate oneself from the cosmos and can provoke intense psychological damage.

But the greatest effect is that as soon as you enter the service, as soon as you jump to another world, all that you knew, everyone you lived with, was dead, to be long in the grave by the time of return - as well as their children and their children’s children. To enter the service is to die, to throw away your life in exchange for a new one, where the crew is your only real family. And in a certain sense, to buy immortality, so that you live in the terms of centuries, by the worlds outside of the ship, to see it transmute and change, rendered unrecognizable by the point of your return.

It’s a space opera in the fine sense of a cast of characters, in its sweeping size, in its length of time and grandeur, but personal and touching. But perhaps so too in its elements of unreality and drama: in the beings of pure energy that constitute the search of much of the book, who can change human emotions and by their own attempts to help, drain them of their will to live and meaning of life. Or in the intense belief in that the passion of the universe can have a real impact: rob people of their vitality in revealing the answers of the cosmos, or its belief from Empire that to reveal that amongst the stars the aliens who had been discovered were other humans would be a catastrophic blow to human self-confidence. I have my doubts of how great this emotional fragility of the general population really would have been, but it manages to throw forth constant surprises and revelations that alter the human conception of our own place in the universe. Above all else, it has a sense of wonder, an appreciation for beauty, courage, discovery.

At times, Kube-McDowell,’s writing style can be confusing to understand for myself at least, when in particular he begins to talk of political maneuvering in the book, without an affirmation of the stakes at play. But for the most part, the style he has is an excellent mix of descriptive awe with the universe brevity, and the intense emotions that mark much of it.

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Enigma is a fascinating book, riven with brilliant characters, great passions, and incredible surprises. It has a well thought out and great sense of science and principles, believable and impactful. A page turning and a brilliant portrayal of cultural distinction and the grandeur of the universe

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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