Book Log #79: Aristoi, by Walter Jon Williams

Read this one recently on the strength of a friend’s recommendation, and was rather glad I did; it’s one of the more unusual SF novels I’ve had the pleasure of reading. Aristoi is set in the far future, when humanity has unlocked the ability to manipulate matter at the molecular level and has spread out into the stars. Those who have mastered the ability to reshape matter in physical and virtual reality alike are the Aristoi, the kindly absolute rulers of their various individual domains, and under their leadership humanity is enjoying an enlightened peace…

Only, since this is a novel and you know this has to be coming, not so much. One of the Aristoi has secretly built an entire solar system filled with planets and even people of their own design, and whoever they are, they’re willing to kill other Aristoi to keep their secret. The Aristos Gabriel, who up till now has let a fairly lightweight life pursuing operatic composition, avoiding the cult that worships him under his mother’s guidance, and romancing his various lovers, is moved to investigate what’s happening–and finds that not only is his own life threatened, but so are the lives of those he holds dear, and indeed, the galactic society at large.

There’s a lot to like in this book, and the plot’s not all of it. Williams’ worldbuilding (aheh) is solid indeed, full of all sorts of little flourishes and details about how a society that’s mastered nanotechnology and virtual reality is not limited by lifespan, gender, sickness, or even original physical forms. I quite liked that one of Gabriel’s lovers, a man, starts off the story being implanted with their genetically engineered child, and that Marcus didn’t elect to become female for the duration of the pregnancy; I quite liked, even, that such was even an option, described so seamlessly that it was clear that in that society, such choices were commonplace.

And I very, very much liked that part of the process of becoming an Aristos or Ariste involved the creation of “daemons” running in one’s head. This amused me from a computer geek perspective, but it also provided an excellent way to present Gabriel as essentially a highly functional multiple person. Many of his daemons are themselves characters, and one even is a significant plot point. Their participation in the action makes for several sequences as well where dual tracks of action are described on the page–a challenge to read through, and very adroitly done.

The book’s not perfect; I took a bit of issue with the open-ended and somewhat too convenient nature of the ending. But all in all I found this a very strong read. Four stars.

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Angela Korra'ti

As Angela Highland, Angela is the writer of the Rebels of Adalonia epic fantasy series with Carina Press. As Angela Korra'ti, she writes the Free Court of Seattle urban fantasy series. She's also an amateur musician and devoted fan of Newfoundland and Quebecois traditional music.