m. c. de marco: To invent new life and new civilizations...

BDO of the Day: Galaxios

Today’s Big Dumb Object (BDO) is the lighter-than-air floating continent within the universe-consuming “topopolis” of the 1998 novel White Light by William Barton and Michael Capobianco. Galaxios is the closest thing in the novel to a well-described structure that makes sense, but that’s only because it’s made of a huge clump of lighter-than-air foliage, and what can one say to that?

I scare-quote “topopolis” because, although the universe-consuming thing is in the tubular shape of a topopolis, it’s actually a parsec in diameter, or 19 trillion miles, and of unknown length. It’s also at least partially filled with much more air than is gravitationally feasible. It may be rotating for gravity or other purposes; the characters trapped within it don’t know the details.

As noted in my topopolis post, the oversexed characters of White Light have not been well received: “it’s as if the cast of a bad porno movie was suddenly transported into what would have otherwise been a fascinating SF novel.” Reading it for myself, I would say that the bigger problem is that the writing and characterization are at the level of bad pornography; the characters' voices are quite difficult to tell apart, and the text is surprisingly lacking in complete English sentences—even setting aside the extreme overuse of ellipses. The story could have had characters that were always thinking about sex for a relevant plot reason, but their own surprise (itself repeated ad nauseam) at their sex-obsession makes it clear that they weren’t intended to be from a hypersexed alternate universe.

The six characters do come from a post-apocalyptic future Earth that, despite the elapsed time since a nuclear war and their possession of significant space industry and colony worlds in other star systems, is only now about to collapse for unspecified reasons. Two of the characters are a male and female space pilot and engineer; the others are her second husband, his housekeeper/whore (details like the legality of her purchase and sexual servitude are, of course, left unspecified), the engineer’s son, and the housekeeper’s daughter.

They end up on a spaceship together for mostly nepotistic reasons, on a mission that is intended merely to protect them from an (of course unexplained) anti-nepotistic roundup. This ship encounters a poorly-described gateway system that propels them to a sequence of poorly-described places; at one of them they meet aliens who tell them about the looming threat of the topopolis.

Eventually they end up in the topopolis itself, discover that this isn’t just a BDO novel but an AU novel—their unexplained faster-than-light drive actually jumps them to adjacent universes (so close in history to their own that no one from the novel’s universe has yet noticed that’s how the drive works)—and the topopolis has a colony of interesting varieties of AU Earthling they can join. These colonists, in turn, want to find the Topopolitans (the creators of the topopolis) in order to experience a poorly-explained but highly hoped-for singularity/heaven.

And then they find it. The characters are just as unsympathetic in heaven as they were on Earth, and heaven has only a tenuous technological basis in the AU-hopping faster than light drive they’ve been using. Sadly, this otherwise interesting twist totally undermines any purpose the topopolis might have been built for, and its purpose for all-consuming all the universes is never revealed. In general, there’s a surfeit of big ideas in this book, but they’re neither explained nor integrated into the plot well enough to make it a good novel.