Written by Christopher Paolini
Published by Tor
May 17, 2023
Paperback, 279 pages
I have not finished a book this fast in a very long time. I could not put it down. And now I’m sad about this. But let me back up a little or like the TV shows do “4 days earlier….”
Fractal Noise is the second physical book of Christopher Paolini’s Fractalverse. The story takes place 23 years before To Sleep in a Sea of Stars. However, there’s currently a third story in the Fractalverse called Unity. It takes place a little after To Sleep in a Sea of Stars and is online at Paolini’s website. So once I finished the first book, I hopped over there and kept reading. I’ll give a little review of that first before I jump into Fractal Noise.
Now that the Unity space station has both humans and Jellies cohabitating peacefully, a murder occurs with no real clear clue on who did it. Each species has their own areas as well as common areas and both sides claim innocence. Any possible recordings of the area show nothing except the implant recordings from the murdered human (contacts they wear that are basically overlays that act like computer screens). What it shows points one direction but is it misleading?
What is interesting about Unity is that it’s a “choose your own adventure” style. The reader is the specialist trying to discover who did it. You read and then choose what path to take, go left or right? Get food and rest after your journey or go talk to the bureaucrat on the station right away? Your decision triggers different answers. But eventually you get to the end, learn a few secrets, and find out a few truths about the human and jellies situation that will most likely lead into Paolini’s next book on this path in the Fractalverse.
I’m not saying that the end was a surprise but a good reality check that Paolini is thinking about the long term in this new series. It is one more log he can throw into the fire to keep it burning for more stories in the future.
But back to the past.
Fractal Noise takes place 23 years before Kira’s discovery when an anomaly is discovered on the uninhabited planet Talos VII – a 50 kilometer wide round pit that is not natural but a design. A small team lands and travels on foot to the pit to survey and learn who or what made this hole. Even if this is the dream find of a lifetime, the solitude of the journey and bareness of the land takes a toll on each of them with their own ghost to keep them company.
This is an amazing change of pace for Paolini. His books have had heavy undertones in the stories but this book takes it to a whole new level. Our protagonist is Alex Crichton, a xenobiologist on the Adamura, the ship that discovers the hole. He’s in a dark place after losing his fiancée. So when presented with the opportunity to be in the landing crew to survey, he figures he has nothing to lose if things go south. He is past that point of caring.
It is the constant questions of what Layla would have done or how could he make her proud that push him through the slow travel and insanity building with an endless thud sound and tremor on the planet’s surface. His emotional and, at some times, physical reactions to both are very similar and disturbing. You could almost compare the thud to the ticking of a clock, a reminder to snap back from his thoughts. However, it’s not snapping him back to reality, but out of reality and deeper into the depths of his mind. Each thud transports him to another memory or dark thought. And they get faster as they group gets closer to their target.
The group is such a diverse group that it would be hard to not have friction between them. There’s a religious believer who constantly has philosophical arguments with a non-believer and the passive observer who just wants to stay out of it. Like the thud, the emotions run higher and the down periods are shorter as they move closer to the anomaly.
Like Alex losing control of his own internal struggles, eventually any logic within the group gets left behind which leads to the climax.
This is where Paolini sheds every ounce of light he has carried in his tales and drops one on the reader.
I could not put this book down. I read it in under a week. I felt that thud every day when I was suppose to be doing other things but my mind could not leave the story alone. I was on a break at work when I finished and had to sit for a while to let it sink in. The impact of the end and my desire to want to know more has me not liking Christopher Paolini right now because I remember how I felt waiting for Inheritance after Brisingr in The Inheritance Cycle. I know this will be worse because I don’t know where his next tale will lead us in the Fractalverse. Will we follow the tale of the anomaly on Talos VII or the future of the humans and jellies years in the future? Paolini has really done a number on his readers by leaving us hanging on what direction he’ll choose.
But I’m ok with this. Now being a part of his jump from fantasy to science fiction, I know that the wait and the story will be worth it. I guess he is now my own personal thud.