Iterations: The Kon-Tiki Quartet: Part Four by Eric Brown and Keith Brooke (book review).

‘Iterations’ is the fourth and final novella in Eric Brown and Keith Brooke’s ‘Kon-Tiki Quartet’ of interstellar adventures. I reviewed the first three volumes here in February and August of last year and May of this year. Having enjoyed the previous stories hugely, I was keen to find out how the authors brought the series to a conclusion.

As with the earlier volumes, I should start by applauding PS Publishing for the high quality of the finished hardback and Ben Baldwin for the striking cover art. I should also note that in addition to the standard £18.00 unsigned edition, there’s a limited print run of 100 signed copies available for £25.00.

The action in ‘Iterations’ starts a century on from the end of the previous volume, ‘Insights’, and fully 240 years after the events of the first book, ‘Dislocations’. Our two series protagonists, psychologist Kat Manning and astrobiologist Travis Denholme, wake up on board an interstellar spacecraft that has returned them to Earth from Newhaven, the exoplanet that was their home in books two and three.

Something is immediately wrong though. Neither Kat nor Travis recognise themselves, as although their identities are clones of their former selves that have just been 3D printed onboard the ship, the bodies their minds have been put into are not their own! Both originally British and white, Kat is now in the body of a young Indian woman, while Travis inhabits the body of a Mediterranean man of similar age. Why they’ve been given different bodies is initially unclear. More unsettling news is to follow. The ship’s AI tells them that they have followed another ship back into Earth orbit. It is carrying the clone of Ward Richards, the megalomaniac who tried to take over Newhaven in the last book. Although he ultimately failed, then drowned while trying to escape justice, his identity was stored and his followers stole a ship and fled back to Earth, hoping to resurrect him there, so he could have a second go at taking over an entire planet. Kat and Travis have been sent to stop him.

Given that they are academics, not soldiers or spies, Kat and Travis are pretty unimpressed with the mission they’ve been assigned. Unfortunately for them, that’s still not the worst of it. The environmental disasters that were threatening the Earth nearly a quarter of a millennium earlier, which led to their original voyage of interstellar colonisation, have now run their course. When they secretly follow Ward Richards down from orbit to the planet’s surface, they find a ruined echo of the place they left. Global civilisation has collapsed and the few million humans still alive exist in varying states of pre-industrial development, dotted across the ruins of the world their ancestors built.

None of this is enough to cool Ward Richards’ ambitions, though. It quickly becomes clear that he sees the chaotic situation on the ground as an excellent opportunity for him to seize control, one settlement at a time, using a mixture of fear and populism. Kat and Travis know they need to stop him, but how?

As with the previous volumes, this is very much a character-based story, focused on the relationships between Kat, Travis and the other people they meet, rather than a hard SF tale focused on the technology of interstellar travel. As ever, Kat comes out of this best, demonstrating intelligence, clarity of thought, leadership and compassion. Travis also has many good qualities, but he is too prone to doubt, occasionally seeming almost afraid of his own shadow. His complete infatuation with Kat, whom he has been married to in previous incarnations, can also make him ineffective in stressful situations. Nonetheless, the interactions between the two of them drive the story forwards, even if you sometimes want to give Travis a good talking to.

The dystopian setting of a dying Earth is nothing new for SF of course but, coming after two books set on an alien exoplanet, it is still a change of scenery. The authors portray it well, effectively contrasting the ruins of the advanced civilisation that our characters left so long ago with the primitive constructions of those now struggling to survive in a largely post-technological age. The emotional toll this takes on Kat and Travis, as they realise just how far humanity has fallen, strengthens the impact of the writing greatly.

By giving Kat and Travis the mission of stopping Ward Richards from taking over the world, the plot gives the story real momentum, driving us from one crisis to the next, all the way to a satisfying conclusion to this book and the series as a whole.

If I have one criticism to make, it’s that so little is made of the innovation revealed in the first couple of pages of the story, when Kat and Travis find out that they have been printed out in bodies that aren’t their own. I was looking forward to an exploration of the cognitive dissonance that would surely follow from inhabiting a body quite different to your own. However, other than enabling them to evade detection a couple of times by those who know what the original Kat and Travis looked like, this element of the story is not pursued.

‘Iterations’ is a highly entertaining SF adventure story on its own account. It also provides a suitably dramatic conclusion to ‘The Kon-Tiki Quartet’ as a whole, bringing our protagonists right back to where everything started in the first novella, but with an awful lot of water under the bridge in between. It’s been a long and exciting journey and I’ve enjoyed every minute.

Patrick Mahon

November 2020

(pub: PS Publishing. 118 page hardback novella. Price: £18.00 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-786365-92-7)

check out: www.pspublishing.co.uk , www.ericbrown.co.uk and www.keithbrooke.co.uk

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