Tapping into the Multiversal zeitgeist with a braided story of the fall of a transdimensional civilization, as seen from the view of characters outside of it as well as within it.
Hadiz Tambuwal has a problem. A lot of problems, actually. Her world, which may be a close cognate to ours in a near future mode, is in a bad way, especially in her home of Lagos, Nigeria. Environmental degradation, resource shortages, climate change, wars and worse have made her Earth a dead man walking. Chance, luck and scientific research allow her to find the way to travel to other worlds. Many of these worlds seem empty, a perfect chance for resources and space. But her own Earth may be doomed and it may be too late for it, but not too late for other Earths, or for Hadiz to stumble upon an multiversal civilization, the Pandominion.
Her story turns out to be the story of the Pandominion and its war against an equally impressive multiversal entity, the Ansurrection, in M R Carey’s Infinity Gate.
Never for lacking ambition in previous works, Carey’s Infinity Gate aims for the biggest of canvases and yet tries to humanize its characters and the viewpoints through which we see that canvas and understand, grok and come to terms with the interdimensional conflict that Carey sets up in the novel. Starting off small with someone outside of the Pandominion is a classic move, but Carey eschews the more well worn path here. That would be of course for Hadiz to stumble upon the Pandominion and give us and her a view of it as she becomes incorporated into its civilization, structure, and society, Introduce us to the Pandominion from an outsider’s perspective and let us understand an interdimensional civilization from the perspective of someone new to it.
Carey does do this, but through an intermediary and another character entirely, and not without dropping us into the Pandominion first. The next character up on the docket is from a world almost next door to Hadiz’s. It’s not quite as dire a situation as Hadiz’s, but from his perspective, his life is pretty rotten.Dire enough that when he is offered a chance, a hope and an offer from Hadiz, he tries to take advantage of it...and propels him right into the Pandominion. It is there that we met a suite of characters, all of whom start as central and functioning members of the society, giving us a variety of views of the Pandominion.
In getting those views of the Pandominion, we get to see what a multiversal society really means in terms of technology, in terms of society and terms of logistics. The Pandominion is no utopia, that is make absolutely clear. Even before the multiversal war, it is clear there are some very dark corners to the Pandominion and to support a multiversal society and hegemony necessarily means a rather large military apparatus and a “logic of empire”. How the Pandominion reacts to their discovery of Hadiz Tambuwal and her discovery of the Empire, as well as the Pandominion’s almost comical and farcical falling into conflict with the Ansurrection are cynical and dark and show the dangers of too-powerful societies.
Even as that on the other hand, the Pandominion is a large and diverse society. It is one where ape-descended humanoids are the minority, Carey is not sanguine about the idea of humans or human like humanoids being the ones to make a multiversal civilization. This gives us a variety of different kinds of bipedal intelligent sapients, and Carey seems to take the view that intelligent life could have arisen from a variety of mammals. Or at least, in the “multiversal region” that the Pandominion, this is true. The Ansurrection, the other ..is different.
In the course of the burgeoning conflict between the Pandominion and the Ansurrection, the characters of the society themselves, including the much put upon rabbit-descended Topaz Tourmaline Five Hills, are introduced in their context, and then have their lives taken away from them by choice, chance and war. There is a real sense of the problems of war and how capricious and soul-destroying it really is, especially for Tourmaline. A chance friendship, a change in society, and soon she is on the run, and with the thinnest of reeds and threads to follow in trying to be true to herself and those she cares about.
The novel does go into detail on Carey’s multiversal theory on how the multiverse works in this verse, how the stepping technology works, and what the structure of the universe is like. There can be a “too fine split” to the idea of Many World Hypothesis universes epitomized in the Larry Niven story “All the Myriad Ways”. In Carey’s verse, while there are some universes that are relatively close to each other in terms of points of divergence, in general. Carey prefers that worlds generally have more significant differences between worlds. Carey is not interested in a multiverse of worlds that turn on for want of a Nail, but rather more divergent and substantive changes.
But this gives Carey an opportunity to show that with some of the same basic parameters, things can harmonize even if they don’t rhyme. His point about the Lagoon and seacoast where Lagos in our world is being a place that a city is always going to wind up being no matter the species or the political conditions is an interesting bit of geographic speculation. Is that true? Are there places that, thanks to geography are always going to be places where you find an important city? I am not sure. Istanbul/Constantinople for example, was a backwater town until Constantine in the 4th century, you’d think such an important place would have had an important city for longer. Or the city of Antioch, an amazing hub for routes from the sea and across the land in several directions. An important city location for thousands of years...until it wasn’t. It’s a fun question worth thinking about in any case. There is a real sense of place to Carey’s different varieties of Lagos that we see throughout the novel.
I am deliberately leaving out an important character in all this, one for the reader to discover, That character is introduced, and then seemingly fades into the background, but turns out to be far more important than one imagines. Given that this is the first in a series and given other revelations in the book, I suspect that the character I am deliberately eliding the identity of will be ever more important to the progression of the war. There is a looking backwards feel to the novel, the framing device and interstitial materials and point of view comments make the broad outlines of the fate of the Pandominion absolutely clear. That’s not the mystery and what drives me as a reader in this novel. It is the exploration of a society that is based on multiversal power and technology and what happens when that society There is a logic to multiversal societies and the use of a multiverse that makes me think of some hinted aspects in Stross’ Merchant Princes saga, the ending of Pohl’s The Coming of the Quantum Cats and, also, Pratchett and Baxter’s Long Earth saga. It is this latter series, as well as the general “Multiversal moment” that genre fiction seems to be going through that this series. There appears to be a less hopeful tone to Infinity Gate, however, than that series, at least as currently seen, and seen through the framing device.
Is Infinity Gate worth it in the end? It’s the first in a series, and its the biggest possible canvas that Carey is using to tell this story. Multiversal stories are not easy, Multiversal novels harder, and when it comes to a series, that’s a true balancing act. Carey has set up the world here so that some of the possible pitfalls and tension denying issues with multiverses are less present, and seems reliant on giving the reader enough hook on knowing the lines of how this is going to go to draw readers to find out what is going to happen to the Pandominion and the characters from it, within it and from outside of it. Carey’s strengths as a writer are considerable and I look forward to where the story goes from here.
- Interesting speculations on societies and Empire
Reference: Carey, M.R, Infinity Gate, [Orbit, 2023]