Sunday, January 18, 2015

Book Review: Patterns of Chaos

Book Review: 'Patterns of Chaos' by Colin Kapp

Award Books paperback, 1973

4 / 5 Stars

‘Patterns of Chaos’ first appeared as a serial in Worlds of If magazine in 1972. This Ace Books paperback (277) was published in May,1978, and features a cover illustration by Paul Alexander. 

[A quasi-sequel, The Chaos Weapon, was released in 1977 by Del Rey Books.]

As the novel opens, a young man named Bron awakens from a coma to discover that Onaris, the planet on which he is residing, is under attack by the rapacious fleet of the Destroyers. As phaser bolts rain down on the city, loosed by Destroyer cruisers circling in orbit, a confused and bewildered Bron discovers that he has 'voices' in his head- voices that originate from miniaturized transmitters surgically implanted in his brain.

The voices emanate from a distant team of three monitors of the Special Assignments Group of the Federation, three monitors who see everything Bron sees, and hear everything he hears. The monitors are able to carry out sub-vocal conversations with Bron; from these exchanges, Bron gradually discovers that he is the most highly trained secret agent in the Federation’s Stellar Commando unit. His mission: pose as Ander Haltern, a philosopher and theoretician of marked genius, and the leader of a religious cult on Onaris.

For reasons that are unknown, the Destroyers seek Ander Haltern. Posing as Haltern, Bron succeeds in being taken prisoner, and is held aboard the Destroyer flagship. There he learns the purpose of his Federation mission: discover the location of the Destroyer’s home base, so the Federation fleet can mount a devastating attack, and remove the menace of the Destroyers once and for all.

However, while aboard the Destroyer flagship, Bron joins its crew in witnessing a catastrophic event: a ‘hellburner’ nuclear missile strikes Onaris, and incinerates the entire surface of the planet....... and its population of 200 million. Initially, Bron accuses the Destroyers of the atrocity. But when Cana, leader of the Destroyers, invites Bron to analyze the missile’s trajectory, Bron comes to a startling conclusion. The hellburner didn’t originate from any Destroyer ship…..but was launched from the distant Andromeda galaxy, 700 million years ago.

Using his genius at understanding nonlinear dynamics – his ability to discern, and predict,  ‘the patterns of chaos’ – Bron shoulders the burden of confronting an attack from a distant, alien enemy – one armed with weapons far beyond the technology of the Federation…..

For a novel written at the height of the New Wave, ‘Patterns’ is surprisingly well-written and well-plotted, reflecting author Kapp’s preference for writing hard sf, although in this case with a proper leavening of styles derived from the New Wave. In practical terms this means that the narrative, while at heart a straightforward space opera, includes segments in which the hero undergoes psychic / paranormal phenomena which are related in a more ornate prose style.

As well, the author routinely employs adjectives and adverbs drawn both from the chemistry literature, and the more obscure sections of a thesaurus. Be prepared to encounter ‘anserine’ (goose-like), ‘eutectic’ (melting point of a substance), ‘thixotropic’ (fluids that thin when stirred), and ‘sonorous’ (producing sound), among others.

Having a protagonist with schizophrenia (albeit a unique type of schizophrenia) is the height of New Wave storytelling fashion, but I quickly grew tired of this 
plot device. These conversations, indicated in italic font, come so frequently throughout 'Patterns', and are so lengthy, that they quickly become an annoyance and a distraction to the narrative. 

Overall, however, ‘Patterns of Chaos’ is a consistently interesting and imaginative space opera, with an offbeat ending that ties things together without being contrived. 

When compared with the bloated, over-written space operas that dominate the store shelves nowadays (and the novels of Alistair Reynolds come readily to mind here) it’s a deserving read, and a book well worth searching out.

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