Heretics (Apotheosis: Book 2)
S. Andrew Swann
Heretics is the sequel to 2009’s Prophets and is the second book of the Apotheosis series. It picks up with events mere minutes after the previous volume though Swann uses the early section of the novel to bring readers somewhat up to speed, at leave when it comes to the bare bones of the plot from the first book. The AI known as Adam has finally revealed himself and has begun his quest to “save” humanity by absorbing them into the collection of nanobots that comprise his physical existence. The crew of the Eclipse, hired by the now dead AI Mosasa to discover what happened to a missing star, has been either captured by agents of the Caliphate or stranded on the planet Salmagundi below. Elsewhere a soldier left to watch over a seldom-used wormhole is confronted by a strange occurrence that reveals a threat to the galaxy at large.
Despite some initially slow opening chapters which give the reader some insight into the Race AI that spawned both Mosasa and Adam Heretics rockets off on an intense ride full of entertaining action sequences and fascinating technology. Swann does a fantastic job of bouncing around the various perspectives around the planet Salamagundi reintroducing the characters readers came to know in Prophets. While all these characters are universally threatened by Adam, now claiming to be God, Swann deftly handles the variety of other threats that assail them as they race to get a message out to the rest of the universe. From Parvi’s escape from the now beseiged Caliphate warship, to Mallory and the scientists captivity at the hands of the Salamagundi natives, to Nikolai and Kugara’s strange alliance with a Protean (a race of technologically evolved humans) each section is as tense and engaging as the last. Added to that readers are introduced to Toni Valentine who, after spurning the advances of a superior officer, was forced into a boring assignment babysitting a wormhole that is until she is confronted by a mysterious and disturbingly familiar visitor, a product of the strange and mind blowing wormhole physics, that uncovers Adam’s galaxy spanning attack against humanity. It’s a testament to Swann’s writing that he can introduce a character outside of already engaging events elsewhere in the story and maker her story equally, if not more, interesting than the characters we are already familiar with.
Swann also manages to toss in a perspective that reveals just what it means to be absorbed by Adam. As data analyst Rebecca, somehwhat addicted to data and information, agrees to join with Adam. Despite being part and parcel of his being the retention of her own individuality allows for a fascinating perspective on Adam from the inside and, through what Rebecca encounters as part of Adam, a means to explore in detail the further history of the Race AIs. Of course, as in Prophets, I found the moreau man-tiger hybrid Nikolai to be the most engaging characters and I wouldn’t be surprised if Nikolai was one of Swann’s favorites as well. Religion plays an important role in Swann’s universe and Nikolai, as a product of man yet a believer in God, provides a conflicted and complex perspective to engage with those religious themes. I found his confusion when dealing with Kugara later in the novel quite amusing and a wonderful reminder of Nikolai’s humanity despite his size and appearance.
While the novel keeps the pace fresh and the action tense the build up towards the final chapters doesn’t really go anywhere. Much like in Prohpets, Heretics ends on a cliffhanger. While this doesn’t take away from the entertainment, excitement, and though-provoking theological implications that are rife in Heretics but it does rob the reader of a certain sense of satisfaction at novels end. Its direct ties to Prophets at Heretics’ beginning and its lack of a proper conclusion means it works as part of series but not at all on its own. This isn’t an entirely fair criticism, to an extent it is the nature of series fiction and the choice to make the series a more cogent whole rather then three distinct pieces is entirely structural and does little to distract from the quality of writing; save the fact that the reader has to wait rather too long for the next installment of the story! I suspect the Apotheosis series would have made a rather excellent, though likely massive, single book. If you’re a fan of epic, sweeping science fiction full of fascinating technology, big action combined with some not-so-subtle meditation on religion and the nature of Godhood then I highly recommend you give the Apotheosis series a try.