Along the fjords of Norway the sailing vessel Demeter heads north under the nominal command of Captain Van Vught, an expedition financed and guided by the ambitious and single-minded Topolsky, seeking a fissure newly-formed and not yet on any map, a narrow passage to an inland sea where he believes he will find “the Edifice,” an object taller than the Great Pyramid which obsesses him, regarding it as an intellectual adversary representing ignorance and the unknown which must be defeated.
Below decks Doctor Silas Coade serves as ship’s surgeon, a necessary inclusion for a voyage of this nature and on friendly terms with the captain and the crew but constantly belittled or treated as superfluous by Topolsky and his entourage, the cartographer Raymond Dupin, the instrument-maker Herr Brucker and the arrogant but fascinating Countess Ada Cossile, yet in the swirling waters where the wreck of a previous expedition is found smashed on the rocks Coade is called to aid the injured as broken masts crash to the deck, killing him.
The prose of the opening chapters of subtly styled to emulate romances such as those of Jules Verne, as a seafaring adventure of mystery and discovery filled with colourful, eccentric and enigmatic characters it is the Voyages extraordinaires which Alastair Reynolds’ Eversion most closely resembles to the outsider until tragedy strikes and the parameters shift, the Demeter now a steamship searching for the same object along the coast of Patagonia, then an airship high above the Antarctic.
Doctor Coade awakening from nightmares which are his only recollection of previous iterations of the doomed voyage, carrying the foreknowledge that they will die as soon as they find the remains of the Europa and the logs left by its missing crew, already disliked by Topolsky how can he convince the others that something is amiss without them dismissing his unprovable conviction as madness?
The strange course charted by the Demeter initially bearing a superficial resemblance to Joe Haldeman’s Old Twentieth, it soon dives deep into a stranger and colder ocean, the descent through the ice and rock of the Antarctic inevitably recalling H P Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness, the discoveries which await equally disquieting and challenging to Coade and his isolated associates for whom he is responsible, the only one who can see the currents beneath the surface.
Reynolds having both ascended a mysterious tower in Diamond Dogs and then fled from another in Terminal World, the Edifice of Eversion is something different, far from the typical Big Dumb Object trope of science fiction, perhaps so alien it cannot be understood and worse, damaged by some process beyond comprehension which gives the book its name, leaving it “a haunted house possessed by its own insanity.”
Coade a writer who channels his experiences and frustrations into his fiction, the narrative style mutates along with the circumstances of the voyage though fortunately not to the ridiculous extremes of the version which presents itself as a pulp science fiction exploration of the Ice-Planetoid beyond the Thermal Barrier, and as much as Reynolds challenges his characters and readers it is clear he is enjoying the games he plays in a strange book quite unlike anything he has written previously.
Eversion is available now from Gollancz