In 2088 humankind is at last ready to explore beyond Earth's solar system, and astrophysicist Reggie Straifer knows where we should go. He's discovered a distant anomalous star that appears to defy the laws of physics. It could be a weird natural phenomenon, or it could be alien.
Convoy 7's mission to discern the nature of the star's strange qualities will use vast resources and take centuries, so in order to maintain the genetic talent of the first crew, clones will be used for the expedition. But a clone is not a perfect copy, and each generation has its own quirks, desires, and neuroses.
As the centuries pass, their society changes and evolves, but their mission remains the same: to reach Reggie's mysterious star and explore its origins - and implications.
A mosaic of discovery, Noumenon successfully examines aspects of the human condition with a touch that is both thrilling and poignant.
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By Matt Dovey on 16-08-17
Reminscent of the best of Foundation
The heart of Noumenon, the reason it works and the most evocative thing about it, is its structure. This is true of both the convoy and the book.
The titular Noumenon is a convoy of nine ships sent to a distant star to analyse anomalous signals. Even with the sub-dimensional FTL travel, it will be a generational mission, over centuries. In order to give the mission the best chance of success, potential crewmembers are analysed and selected, not just for launch, but forever: they will be continually cloned, replaced by themselves, maintaining the balance and make-up of the crew. This single decision has ramifications for the society and the mission down the generations
Like Asimov's early Foundation books (and Bradbury's Martian Chronicles, though the sections here are longer than that book), Noumenon the book presents a series of events of the evolving society, each chapter skipping ahead in time to new characters (albeit familiar from cloning) and showing us how earlier decisions, earlier actions have played out. The solution to a problem in one chapter becomes the cause of the problem in the next, and at each step the characters must solve the problem as best they can for the here and now, with whatever knowledge and limited foresight they have.
Threaded throughout and tying everything together is the convoy's AI, ICC, the only truly consistent crewmember and the one charged with maintaining society and ensuring the success of the mission.
Like Foundation, Noumenon creates such a plausible sequence of events that you stop seeing it as a work of fiction and begin to believe it as a detailed future history. You're pulled along not by seeing what happens to an individual character, but by seeing the ramifications of earlier stories. It's as powerful a work of hard social science fiction as Foundation ever was, and that's the highest recommendation I can give it.
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