A lot is happening for writer Chris Roberson: over the last couple months he very publicly left his comic book work for DC behind, created his own webcomic project Monkeybrain, and saw the publication of his latest science-fiction novel "Further: Beyond The Threshold." Published by Amazon.com imprint 47North, "Further" is a "Star Trek" for our current age, one that takes into account not only hot-button topics like trans-humanism and genetic modification, but presents a snapshot of the future that is more realistically diverse (friendly sentient whales notwithstanding).
The novel really feels like two parts, the first being a narrative of what happens to Captain Ramachandra Jason Stone when he wakes up after 12,000 years of cryogenic suspension. Very reminiscent of classic sci-fi dystopian narratives such as H.G. Wells' "The Sleeper Awakes" (sans the jaw-dropping racism), this section of the book very methodically gets "RJ" -- and the reader -- up to speed with what's been going on with Earth over the millennia. And what's been going on include a world-shaking cataclysm, the insurgency and subsequent "banishment" of the thinly-disguised religious fanatics The Iron Mass, and an explosion of advances in technology and genetic splicing which has pretty much rendered humanity near-immortal.
Of particular interest in this novel is the definition of "humanity," and if the term can be applied to feline-human hybrids, talking monkeys, the aforementioned friendly anthropomorphic whale, "downloaded" consciousnesses, and highly self-aware robots. 2011's "Robopocalypse" by Daniel H. Wilson treated these issues regarding trans-humanism with mostly hearty dollops of dread and horror, only lightly sprinkled with bits of hope for the future. What a difference a year makes: in "Further," trans-humanism is the norm, with those opposed to the benign Kurzweilian technological advances (epitomised in the plucky digital "consciousness-copy" Amelia) being portrayed as backward, superstitious, bloodthirsty, and probably the descendants of the Westboro Baptist Church.
The second half of the book concerns Captain RJ Stone's first mission on-board the fantastic spaceship FTL Further, accompanied by a memorable and vividly-described cast of characters including the urbane chimpanzee Maruti, the cloned multi-body Jida, and the somewhat brooding robot Xerxes. While I enjoyed the first half, with its meticulous world building and constant shout-outs to contemporary pop-culture (especially the "geeky" cosplaying Anachronists) a bit more, what follows is a decent outer-space adventure, our heroes facing off against the nefarious (if not a bit too classically villainous...I mean, they have horns) Iron Mass.
The ending makes me wonder if this isn't a set-up for a whole series of "Further" books, or a movie, or maybe just a comic book. There's enough foundation laid down in this novel that any of these scenarios would probably work. Let's see where the journey takes us.
"Further: Beyond The Threshold" is on sale now at Amazon.com. If you have a Kindle, you can get it for under five bucks, which ain't too shabby.