N.J. Tanger’s “Ascension”: Masterfully Written Science Fiction

ascension

This intriguing and suspense-filled tale intricately describes what it might take to reach an interstellar destination, both in the way of motivation as well as technology, to say nothing of the type of individuals who would assume such a feat.

Nathan Beauchamp, a member of the writing team known as N.J. Tanger, is the sole author of this episode in the Universe Eventual series which expands upon the workings of the interstellar vehicle, Chimera. The ship is designed to support a population comparable to a small city for years to come through hydroponics and other self-sufficiency techniques. It provides holographic scenery reminiscent of Earth; possesses a sophisticated power system; and includes a political structure drenched in intrigue.

The conspiratorial reason for leaving Earth is fascinating and smolders with much of what is seen in today’s corporatism-saturated world. Colonization is motivated by their destination’s rich deposits of ecomire, which I assume to be the next generation of uranium, i.e., it represents a powerful energy source rarely found elsewhere and motivates a power hungry (both literally and figuratively) corporation to finance the venture. Furthermore, they intend to maintain their tentacles in those making the journey through whatever means necessary. Some colonization efforts are about survival, others about profits, this one possessing elements of both.

New but intuitively familiar terminology provided a unique and convincing environment. For example, referring to the enforcement arm as “regulators” was cold and effective. The personal agenda of various characters provided plot complexity, but without over-populating the story. Yet, the massive dimensions of the ship, the number of those onboard, and their evolving culture and social strata were conveyed effectively. The main character, Ashley Samuelson, was credible and relatable, personalized further by the first person narrative point of view and the intimate details of his personal life and relationships, including a romantic one.

One of the most clever sci-fi elements serves as the mainstay of the plot and that is the means by which the Chimera is guided by its navigator with the support of a few assistants, one of which is Ashley. To travel through the esoteric, paranormal dimension described as “fractal space”, “stitches” are laid to form a connection between Earth and their ultimate destination through “The Everything”. Once this pathway is laid, other ships will traverse it more quickly, so the implication is that they are creating a wormhole. This is accomplished through the combined efforts of the navigator, who’s enclosed in a mysterious spherical work station, where he or she is psychically entangled with the ship’s artificial intelligence. This combination of thought energy provides the creative power to chart its course, stitch by stitch, an interesting play on the apparent consciousness/matter interface implied by quantum theory. Navigator assistants deal with resolving any paradoxes encountered along the way.

Not just anyone can perform this critical navigating function, so when their existing navigator dies unexpectedly of mysterious causes, it presents a significant threat, not only to their mission, but their very survival. The quest to find a new navigator combined with investigation into the death of the original one provides various provocative insights into the risks of AI as well as allowing it to interact with a human.

This complex tale is presented via a masterful style that demonstrates some of the most delicious prose I’ve seen. As a writer myself, I savored numerous vivid descriptions, such as a look of “distilled hatred”; “her angry, beautiful, treacherous eyes”; “stumbling my way into the truth”; “fear masqueraded as anger”; as well as several others.  I suppose the fact such jewels jumped out at me as exceptional descriptions could be considered throwing me out of the story, but for me it was in a good way. Some of the imagery was nearly blinding, which is not easily achieved without slowing down the story. However, the literary precision was such that the descriptions integrated with the action and increased the suspense, which made various scenes play out like a movie in my mind. The author’s skill itself made this tale a joy to read.

This story is part of the Universal Eventual series, yet stands alone. However, if you’ve read any of the other stories, it helps fill in a few of the gaps. It has been a while since I read Chimera and this makes me want to read it again. If you enjoy meaty hard science fiction with plenty of advanced technology and intrigue while maintaining a strong human element with philosophical implications as deep as you care to go, all of which is packaged with strong, skillful writing, I highly recommend this story.

You can pick up your copy on Amazon here.

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