by John Barnes
Tor, 1999, 303 pp. , $22.95
Barnes has to be one of the top half-dozen SF writers writing today and Finity is another fine piece of work. The story starts in the Free State of Enzee — New Zealand — a hundred years after Hitler won WW II. The world is divided up into the Eleven Reichs, the Japanese Empire, and an assortment of minor Free States filled with expatriate Americans.
(Incidentally, Barnes has the historical sophistication to realize that even a world where Hitler won would eventually cease to be a living horror. A hundred years after the Nazi victory, most people live decent lives and society seems to be relaxing back to something we’d recognize as normal. And then he zings us when the main character is surprised at seeing a black American — he’d thought they’d all been killed during the Conquest. Chilling and very well thought out.)
This bizarre world is advanced perhaps twenty years beyond our current level with AIs running cars and the like. The main character is an astronomer who is hired by the largest multi-national in the world to purse a research technique aimed at developing effective strategies for problem-solving.
And then things start to get very strange.
I won’t detail the rest of the plot because it’s interesting enough to be worth reading on its own. I don’t mind giving spoilers, particularly, but this book has a good enough puzzle to be worth keeping spoilers to a minimum. Suffice it to say that it gets very complicated, though, ultimately, I found the explanation for all the strangeness to be a bit on the weak side.
Still, it’s a good piece of work and well worth reading.