Reviews Logo
SearchHomeContents PageSite Map
John Barnes
Tor Books, 303 pages

Art: Chopping Block Finity
John Barnes
John Barnes was born in 1957. He received his BA and MA in political science from Washington University, then worked as a systems analyst and in various kinds of computer consulting, mostly reliability math and human interfaces. He received a dual Master's degree (MFA English (Writing), MA Theatre (Directing) from the University of Montana in 1988. He earned a Ph.D. from the University of Pittsburgh (Theatre Arts) in 1995; his specialties were performance semiotics and design/tech. From 1994 to 2001 he taught theatre, rhetoric, and communications at Western State College in Gunnison, Colorado. He now lives in downtown Denver, writing and consulting fulltime; he may be the only paid consulting semiotician in the world, since he has not met or heard of any others. He has been married and divorced twice, which is quite enough for anybody.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Apostrophes & Apocalypses

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Steven H Silver

In 1934, Murray Leinster wrote the short story "Sidewise in Time," which told of a world in which bits and pieces of different timelines began filtering through, giving his heroes a tour of worlds which might have been. John Barnes' Finity does the same type of thing, although in this case, not only are the timelines bleeding through, but individuals can suddenly become their other world analogues without warning.

The novel begins in the latter half of the 21st century with American ex-patriot Lyle Peripart, an astronomer in the free country of New Zealand in a world in which Germany triumphed in World War II (it's called the Great Reich War). All the major powers the Germans conquered are now semi-autonomous Reichs modelled on the German Reich.

Peripart is offered a job by Geoffrey Iphwin, another American ex-pat whose fortune is based on his company, ConTech, within one of the Reichs. Iphwin's company has recently come under attack and he wants to hire Peripart for the scientist's knowledge of "abduction mathematics." Although abduction mathematics play a major role in the novel, Barnes never really gives an adequate description of what it is or how it works.

Shortly after Peripart accepts Iphwin's job offer, a series of strange events occur, beginning with possible tampering of Peripart's stratocraft and continuing through an assassination attempt. Although Peripart notes these strange occurrences, he never really pauses to examine them, instead accepting them at face value.

Once the world swapping begins, the story quickly because incredibly convoluted for both the characters and the reader. Barnes breaks the rules by radically changing the world he has built up and the characters and events he has shown the reader. Like the characters, the reader can never be sure of anything which has happened or will happen in the novel. Eventually, Barnes does provide an explanation for how seemingly random things can be switched, but that explanation comes late and is almost a deus ex machina rationalization.

Finity begins with a series of conversations between Peripart and the artificial intelligence of various modes of transportation. By changing the manner in which cabs and limousines converse, Barnes is able to show the differences between technological advance in the Reichs and in the free countries. However, all of the AIs seem to be the most annoying blend of "Eddie, the Shipboard computer" from Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and the "Johnny Cabs" from the film Total Recall. At the same time, Peripart comes across as someone who is naïve and possibly too polite for his own good, although Barnes eventually dispels those notions of his main character. In any event, too much time is spent on Peripart's conversations with his vehicle.

In general feel, much of Finity reads like a science fiction story from the late 50s or early 60s -- an idea which Heinlein might have written as a juvenile. However, Barnes does not successfully marry the high tech and theoretical sciences with the unpretentious story line, nor are his explanations particularly lucid. Another point which needs to be made is that Barnes includes, from out of the blue, a rather graphic gratuitous rape scene. This scene takes place at the beginning of a chapter and is therefore spotlighted. Although it does demonstrate the differences between some of the timelines, it seems extremely out of place given the feel the rest of the novel has.

Barnes's recent novels have shown a strong interest in the idea of multiple worlds. While Finity demonstrates a better grasp of historical forces than his series begun with Patton's Spaceship (Harper 1997), Barnes includes a few too many "gosh wow" ideas about history which seem out of place.

Finity begins with a fantastic premise. Unfortunately, Barnes does not present the story in a way which makes it particularly exciting and he sits on his cards a little too long, causing the reader to lose interest before the great revelations come. One of the "rules" of science fiction is to introduce one thing and watch the changes. Barnes is too intent to throw everything into his mixture without worrying whether the flavours will compliment each other.

Copyright © 1999 by Steven H Silver

Steven H. Silver is one of the founders and judges for the Sidewise Award for Alternate History. He sits on concoms for Windycon, Chicon 2000, and Clavius in 2001, and is co-chair of Picnicon 1998. Steven will be serving as the Programming Chairman for Chicon 2000. In addition to maintaining several bibliographies and the Harry Turtledove website, Steven is trying to get his short stories published and has recently finished his first novel. He lives at home with his wife and 3200 books. He is available for convention panels.

SearchContents PageSite MapContact UsCopyright

If you find any errors, typos or other stuff worth mentioning, please send it to
Copyright © 1996-2014 SF Site All Rights Reserved Worldwide