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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: K-Machines
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 Greg L. Johnson

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Damien Broderick's Godplayers was a romp through one of the grand ideas of science fiction, the multiple-reality universe of alternate histories and manipulative beings. The novel jumped crazily from one adventure and one idea to the next, each more outrageous than the previous, written in a style that mixed-up Roger Zelazny, A.E. van Vogt, and every cheesy space opera you ever loved as a kid. At the same time, there were always hints that there was more going on here, serious substance beneath all the bright lights and big explosions.

K-Machines starts off in much the same style, mixing enigmatic conversation with literary stylings and rampaging monsters. It's when August Seebeck, whose life changed so dramatically in Godplayers, begins questioning what has happened to him that K-Machines starts to change its focus. The adventure is still there, but it now moves more to the background, and the main story becomes a series of conversations all brought about by August's questions.

Those questions range from why did the most beautiful woman in the universes instantly fall in love with me to is it possible the multiverse is nothing but a simulation so good that it is indistinguishable from reality? Asking the first question raises doubts about all that August has learned about his family and others who style themselves Players in the Contest of Worlds. Asking the second question raises doubts about the nature of reality itself.

Those doubts form the core of the story in K-Machines. August's emotional struggle to understand just who Lune is, why, and if, she loves him, is intertwined with the quest to understand why the universe is the way it is, and how it came to be. At the crux of that argument is the realisation that in a universe where simulation and reality are indistinguishable, the search for the answer to what ultimately constitutes reality becomes a search for beginnings, for that universe from which the branching universes first came, or, possibly, where the simulation was first created. That search for beginnings and the nature of reality manifests itself in K-Machines in, among other ways, references to the Yggdrasil Tree, scholars of "computational ontology," and a book, SgrA*, sacred to the k-machines, which may be the one common link to all the possible histories of mankind.

It's a bit of a cliché to respond to criticism of stories involving spaceships, alien monsters, and god-like beings with incredible technology that it's really all about serious scientific speculation and deep philosophical insight. But, first with Godplayers and now with K-Machines, that's exactly what Damien Broderick has done. The energy, sense of wonder, a sometimes just plain silliness of classic space opera is here, so is a very well thought out exploration of the implications of living in a multiple-reality universe. Because of that, K-Machines accomplishes something that is common to almost all good science fiction, it makes thinking fun.

Copyright © 2006 by Greg L. Johnson

Reviewer Greg L. Johnson trusts that the songs of Paul Kelly are being sung in whichever alternate Australia August Seebeck may find himself playing in. His reviews also appear in the The New York Review of Science Fiction.


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