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To Hold Infinity
John Meaney
Pyr, 529 pages

To Hold Infinity
John Meaney
John Meaney has a degree in physics and computer science, is a black belt in Shotokan karate and works in IT. He has been reading SF since the age of eight, and his short fiction has appeared in Interzone and in a number of anthologies. His debut novel, To Hold Infinity, was shortlisted for the BSFA Award and subsequently selected as one of the Daily Telegraph's "Books of the Year."

John Meaney Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: To Hold Infinity
SF Site Review: Paradox
SF Site Interview: A Conversation With John Meaney
SF Site Review: Paradox

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Greg L. Johnson

The vagaries of international publishing being what they are, a reviewer at times finds himself reviewing a first novel by a writer who has already had three subsequent novels published, none of them read by the reviewer. It takes a bit of faith, then, to trust that John Meaney's other books have outgrown at least some of the flaws that make To Hold Infinity a recognizably first novel. The plot is a bit over-complicated, and some characters are seemingly introduced only because the main character has a sudden need for a helping hand. The world-building is complex also, and the prose strains at times to accommodate both the need for details of a very complicated society, and the desire to tell a fast-paced story.

Trust that these are one-time faults is justified because, even with its flaws, To Hold Infinity is a darn good book. Set on Fulgar, a planet on the edge, both as a frontier and in its use of technology, To Hold Infinity begins with the disappearance of Tetsuo, a young man from Earth trying to build his own life on Fulgar. When his mother arrives for a visit, the story is set up as a tale of a mother looking for her estranged son.

That changes when we meet Rafael, a Luculentus and business partner of Tetsuo's. The Luculentus are enhanced human beings, most undergo surgery as children that augments their natural abilities, granting modes of thought and means of communication beyond the abilities of humans. Tetsuo has ambitions of becoming a Luculentus, and Rafael has served as a kind of mentor and business partner.

Rafael is also a serial killer, a particularly nasty psychopath whose presence screams danger every time he appears in the story. That his charm and beauty hide this from the other characters gives the story much of its dramatic tension, and adds a second story to the mix that turns To Hold Infinity into as much of a psychological thriller as it is a science fiction novel.

The one person seemingly immune to Rafael's charms is Tetsuo's mother, Yoshiko. Yoshiko is a noted research scientist and expert at martial arts, and when the story of her search for Tetsuo intersects with Rafael's mad desires, To Hold Infinity is a gripping story, full of tension and suspense. There's plenty there for any novel, but Meaney adds a couple more sub-plots, one involving Fulgar social relationships and politics, and one involving Yoshiko's husband's past and his relationship with the Pilots who guide ships through interstellar space. The speculation is creative, but the addition of the extra story-lines provides for at least one too many opportunities for unexpected rescues, the result that what should be a normal consequence of the character's motivation starts to feel like a manipulation.

That's a small criticism, however, of a book that is, overall, a fine combination of character study and post-human adventure, written with a style that speaks to why the author's career has continued on for at least three more novels. John Meaney's To Hold Infinity deserves to be read by anyone looking for a good science fiction story, well told.

Copyright © 2006 by Greg L. Johnson

Reviewer Greg L Johnson recommends The Flaming Lips' Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots as the perfect background music for Yoshiko's search for her so. His reviews also appear in the The New York Review of Science Fiction.

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