Monday, May 16, 2011

Neverness: An Appreciation

This isn't quite a full-on review of David Zindell's 1988 novel Neverness. It's just a brief love-haiku for this geeky wonder of a book.  Think of it as one part Greg Egan's transhumanism, mixed with one part Olaf Stapledon's aeon-spanning cosmic vision, blended with a soupçon of a school-days coming-of-age tale with burgeoning superpowers (dare I say J. K. Rowling?). Add to that a glimmer of Gene Wolfe's sense of wordplay -- but I haven't yet read Wolfe; I yoinked that last one from the longer review quoted below.

I became enchanted with this story, and Zindell's imagined future universe, when I encountered this book in the late 1990s. I found it via a review by Orson Scott Card in F&SF, where he raved about it and said:
I wish I had written this book. Not because I admire it (though obviously I do).  My feelings are beyond mere jealousy. I wish I had written it because as I read it I heard Zindell say things I had tried to say in many of my own works, but never did, not this clearly, not this fully. I wish I had written it because it is the truth, earned truth, truth that flows out of a story that is at once grand and small, brilliant and dark, simple and intricate.
How could I NOT seek it out after that kind of praise? Although it gets a little rambly in places, I do think it lives up to the praise.  (The sequels... maybe not so much, but that's a story for another day...)  One of the reasons I'm highlighting it on this gaming-type blog is that Zindell structures much of the story around the "Order of Mystic Mathematicians and Other Seekers of the Ineffable Flame," a learned school/society that is clearly modelled after Hermann Hesse's Castalia from The Glass Bead Game. One has to get to the second book in the series (The Broken God) to see the full parallels drawn between Hesse's GBG players and Zindell's holists and notationists, but the vibe is there in the first book.

Unfortunately, Neverness didn't take off into the stratosphere of speculative fiction like some thought it would, and there's precious little ancillary geekdom about it on the web. Not for long! I'm planning for my second PDF project to be a kind of Neverness FAQ, a spoiler-free "travel guide" to some of the things that populate Zindell's universe. I've got a draft from several years ago that outlines some aspects of geography, the calendar, and the professions of the Order. It's just something that I really enjoyed putting together, and it will be nice to see it finished.  Fingers crossed!  :-)


  1. A little late to the party, but I just wanted to add that I appreciate your appreciation. Neverness and the Broken God are very underrated. I agree that the rest of the series is just what I call 'trilogy' fiction, whether in a trilogy or not.

    Neverness, by the way, would haven been a very good choice for a GURPS supplement back in GURPS's heyday.

  2. Never too late! :-) Hmm, I wonder if my FAQ-like travel guide should be repurposed into a kind of campaign setting guide? I'd have to probably include a lot more material that would be considered spoilers... and also confront more worries about fair use and copyright infringement, probably... but I'll think about it.

    Are you the person behind

  3. No, not me.

    You could try relegating some of the spoiler material to an appendix. Not the most elegant solution, but it would allow you to include more.