the Little Red Reviewer

Noumenon, by Marina J. Lostetter

Posted on: October 3, 2017

Noumenon by Marina J. Lostetter

Published Aug 1 2017

where I got it: purchased new

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Stories about generation ships are nothing new, we tend to see a good crop of them every year. The novel might focus on the disenchanted middle generation that didn’t leave Earth, and won’t see their destination, or perhaps deal with a mutiny, or a malfunction on the ship, or the fact that their destination planet can’t support human life.  What I’m saying is that for the most part, many of us have seen this story before.

 

In Noumenon, Marina J. Lostetter goes in a somewhat different direction, and succeeds through the magic of ultra-fast pacing. It sounds counterintuitive, right? Speed up the pace of a story, to tell the story better? In Noumenon it works, and creates a unique situation for what might have otherwise been a forgettable novel.

 

The first few chapters race by – an interstellar mission is funded, a subdimension drive is invented and tested and engines are built, an AI is designed around a common personal assistant program. In these early chapters you’ll find yourself turning the pages faster than you realize. The prose is easy on the eyes, the characters are easy to get along with, we see everyone at their best, and we’re science fiction fans so of course we’re cheering for an interstellar mission!  And before you know it, we’re in spaaaaaace!

 

A few decades later, the implications of the twist start to hit.  These aren’t just any regular people on a colony ship.  Don’t think I’m spoiling things, because this is the least of the spoilers – the ship is crewed by genetic clones of the people who were chosen to go.  When those clones age and “retire”, new clones will be born.  If “Bob” is a biologist (making that up as an example) then every Bob who is every born on the ship will always grow up to be a biologist.  The colony ship will always have just as many pilots, communications experts, doctors, teachers,  sanitation workers, and scientists as it needs.  Only one “Bob” is ever alive at a time, but there’s usually always a Bob walking around somewhere.  Pretty interesting idea!

The only unique being on the ship is the AI, who is known as ICC.  ICC starts off as simply an onboard computer, but as the generations go by, ICC learns that people, clones or no, can act irrational, can miss things they’ve never seen, can have anxiety and fear, and can betray each other.  ICC doesn’t so much want to be human, as want to understand humans better.  ICC isn’t Commander Data, or Hal, or Murderbot, or even Lovelace from A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet.    Like the rest of us, ICC wants to live its life, do its job, and most importantly, ICC doesn’t want to die.  Like everyone else, ICC is curious about what they’ll find at their mission’s end. Unlike the rest of us, ICC is programmed to ensure the mission is successful, no matter what.

 

As the chapters whisk by and Earth is ever so further away, ICC becomes the only constant. Since the convoy uses subdimentional travel, time passes much slower on the ships than it does on earth. A few hundred years on the ships equals nearly two thousand years on Earth.  In this sped up pacing, ICC grows as a child might – first not caring about anything but itself, then realizing there are other people it can care about, then coming to care about those people, and eventually doing things behind people’s backs in an effort to help them.  So long as you don’t get too attached to any of the human characters, you’ll do fine with Noumenon, because as soon as you get to know someone, the story jumps ahead.

 

It’s because  Lostetter isn’t writing a character driven story. Or well, her characters aren’t individual people. Her two main characters are ICC and the entire society on the colony ship convoy.  ICC is certainly friends with individuals, but it’s easy for ICC to see these people as one gigantic organism, or even as migrating butterflies – that even if a certain percentage of people die, the rest of the group can survive.

 

Oh, where is the convoy going, you ask? Great question!  To a star that is behaving strangely. It presents as a variable star that might have planets orbiting it, but more likely has an artificially created structure orbiting.  Other alien ships? An unfinished Dyson sphere? Maybe.   In a number of ways, Noumenon felt like a lighter, more enjoyable version of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora. I don’t mean to knock Aurora, it had some amazing scenes, but Noumenon was overall a lot more satisfying.

 

The good news is that the convoy makes it safely to the star.

 

What they find there is a wonderful surprise. It will blow your mind.

 

What they find afterwards will break your heart.

 

At less than 450 pages, there is a lot jammed into this book. An AI that is evolving so slowing it doesn’t realize what’s happening, a closed society going through drastic changes, a ton of different things that happen to our colony ship clones,  unintended consequences of terrible decisions, and unintended consequences of society decisions we don’t even realize we are making.  I guess there is a third main character of this book, an important one we barely see – the humans who are left behind on Earth.

 

Noumenon was a fun, unique book. Recommended to readers who like the idea of generation ship stories but are also looking for something that digs a little deeper into what it really means to be stuck in a metal box for a few hundred years, and how that might psychologically affect the people living inside and the people left behind.

 

 

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7 Responses to "Noumenon, by Marina J. Lostetter"

Okay! I like your reviews and I have been happy with our recommendations so I am going for this one as well – news. Will let you know how I got on. Wendy

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yes, please let me know if you like this one! It’s got some weird and unexpected stuff in it, but was a ton of fun and I zipped through it.

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It’s been a while since one of your reviews made me want to read the book (because of the book, not the review of it), but this one has. So I’ll check and see if perhaps the library has it. […..] Turns out it is available at the library, so I’ve put in a hold. Looking forward to reading it.

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I’ve been reading some really off the wall stuff lately!

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I have Numenon sitting on my shelf and I’m not sure if I will end up liking it. I read the first page which I usually do to see if I enjoy the writing style and it felt a bit too…amateurish? Not seriois enough for a space opera? I don’t know. But your review makes me want to pick it up!

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The first chapter or two do sound very, what’s the right word, sort of simplistic? The story takes a little while to get going. Next time you pick it up, give it 15 pages.

If you love a good opening hook, have you read The Martian by Andy Weir? One of the best openings!

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Yes, exactly it was kind of simplistic. Well, since you also though of the beginning the same way as I did, I trust you when you say it gets better!

I love good openings but I don’t expect them, so they are not vital to me. I have read The Martian and if I remember it correctly it went something like this: “I’m fucked.” Haha

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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