Jeapes' fifth sci-fi novel must be his best, with brisker storytelling, deeper characterisation and a natural way of introducing his own technology.
Paperback, 351 pages
When Jeapes published his last work New World Order, he brought airships and Neanderthals into the English Civil War. It was his best work so far. With his fifth novel Phoenicia's Worlds, he is back to his usual future space and he has raised the bar even higher.
Alex Matteo has travelled to Earth's only extra-solar colony, La Nueva Temporada, which has been chosen for its closeness to earth's conditions, although it is in the grip of an ice age. He wants to work on the terraforming project to thaw out the planet, but a major disaster cuts off the colony's lifeline, and he finds himself travelling the 43 year journey back to Earth in longsleep to save his planet. While he is away, we follow the life of his brother Quin, through teenage years until he becomes a political mover, caught up in the instability that strikes La Nueva Temporada, as the planet's population fears extinction.
The evolution of Jeapes' writing is striking. While his plotlines were decent before, the pace of this book is far brisker, his characterisation deeper and the twists more unexpected. In particular, his dialogue has found a new strength, cladding the characters in another dimension. What I particularly enjoyed was the way that he introduces new technology with a comfortable ease that lets them become a natural part of the background. So Headspace is an internalised Google/communications channel, with images tagged and the government able to filter the system. Conceptuals are memory storage devices that you take like pills to restore your memory after longsleep. Similarly, he naturally introduces the harmless Musgovores, flat rug-like creatures that flow over rocks, licking off the moss. They provide hunting sport and even food when times get tough.
Although he is an active Christian, Jeapes refuses to shoehorn in a flattering portrayal of the Church or score any sectarian points. It is simply there, even in the future, the same part of society that it has been for much of history.
Only once did the pace start to flag, but that was just before a huge leap in the plot that introduced a complete new angle to view the story from. And there were enough of these surprises to make a second read worthwwhile.
Through it all, Jeapes shows enough mature understanding of the human condition to create a fully believable world in which you care for some characters and feel uncomfortable in the presence of others. I even found myself stopping reading, because the end was getting near and I was not yet ready for it to end.
Only once have I been disappointed with one of his novels and it was not one that featured his horse-like aliens the Rusties. But for his best I would recommend anything that has 'World' in the title.