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K-Machines
Damien Broderick
Thunder's Mouth Press, 319 pages

K-Machines
Damien Broderick
Some consider Damien Broderick to be Australia's premier SF novelist. He is the author of many non-fiction books on science, technology, and culture. He grew up in Reservoir, attended a seminary for a while and spent a fair bit of time at Monash University. Assorted careers -- including computer programming and editing a national magazine -- led him to writing. His works include The Judas Mandala and The Dreaming Dragons.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Godplayers
SF Site Review: Transcension
SF Site Review: Not the Only Planet
SF Site Review: The White Abacus

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rich Horton

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Here is the sequel to last year's Godplayers. This continues the story of August Seebeck, an ordinary Australian man who is suddenly brought to realize that he is part of a family, all named after the months. August has been told that he and his family are "Players in the Contest of Worlds" (also the collective title of these two novels), battling foes known as the "Deformers" for -- for what? Indeed, that is one of the questions driving this second novel.

August is also, all along, a very young man, and very much in love with Lune, another Player, though not a Seebeck. Lune is much older than he, and quite astonishingly beautiful. Another question driving this novel is "Does Lune really love August?" or "What does she see in him?"

But in the final analysis, I think, this book is really to a great extent a commentary on SF, and on the love we (the author most certainly included) have for the genre. There are in-jokes sprinkled throughout for the delight of long time fans: a writer in an alternate world named E. Hunter Waldo and nanomachines of a sort called "offogs," to name but two. Moreover the novel is deeply entwined with the Matter of Britain: the Arthurian legends. Aside from this, the book in the end concerns, after all "Players in the Contest of Worlds": alternate worlds that often reflect SFnal dreams, such as a lush wet Venus. One cannot but think that this "Contest of Worlds" is in a way a reference to the many future worlds of SF, and that the "Players" are the writers.

What of the action of this book? August, at the open, is trying to resume a life as a Philosophy student in Australia, as well as trying to enjoy his love for Lune. But almost immediately he finds himself attacked by a dinosaur-like beast: perhaps one of the Deformers' "K-Machines", "K" standing for -- what? "Killer", perhaps? Soon August is again pinballing through the various worlds in pursuit of answers from his varied (and varying) group of brothers and sisters. Also he loses track of Lune, and to his disgust finds others questioning her loyalty.

An alternate thread follows the life of an Australian scientist who, significantly I think, was born the same year as Damien Broderick.1 This man is followed through a long life, a boyhood loving science fiction, followed by an adult career marked by multiple entanglements with women, and by a spotty but interesting academic record, culminating in involvement with an effort to reach the Singularity, perhaps by creating artificial universes. Which may -- or may not -- explain just what is going on in these two books.

These two books, Godplayers and K-Machine, are a very enjoyable and intelligent diptych, riffing on wild contemporary speculative scientific ideas such as Matrioshka brains as well as SF/Fantasy classics like Roger Zelazny's Amber books. At times I felt the books were victimized just a bit by the bane of certain SF and Fantasy both: the notion that just about any old thing can happen at the characters' (or the author's) convenience. But I did enjoy the ride, and I certainly recommend reading them.


1 Which is not to say that this character really is Damien Broderick, nor that his life history closely matches Broderick's.

Copyright © 2006 Rich Horton

Rich Horton is an eclectic reader in and out of the SF and fantasy genres. He's been reading SF since before the Golden Age (that is, since before he was 13). Born in Naperville, IL, he lives and works (as a Software Engineer for the proverbial Major Aerospace Company) in St. Louis area and is a regular contributor to Tangent. Stop by his website at http://www.sff.net/people/richard.horton.


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