Thursday, September 21, 2017

Necessity by Jo Walton

The last part of a trilogy. The setting of the book is completely different from the earlier books. It doesn’t happen in ancient Greece, but in a future on a distant planet. When Zeus heard of the experimental city Apollo and Athene had set up based on the principles of Plato’s Republic, he was not too happy about it. He decided to transfer the town (which, by that time, had already split up into several sub-towns, each following its own interpretation of The Republic) in time and space.

When the book starts, several decades have passed. Most of the characters of the earlier books have died, including Apollo, who had been living in the town in corporeal form. After his body died, he regained his godly powers. As a god, he learns that Athene has disappeared and she can’t be found anywhere in time and space.

Life has settled on the new planet, even if it is much colder than Greece, with the temperature hovering around the freezing point of water for half of the year. (That doesn’t sound very bad, by the way; way better climate than I have in my hometown.) But the supposedly smart philosophers still wear chitons or togas. One would imagine that they would have learned to make some warmer clothes in a few decades. The inhabitants of the planet have already made contact with a couple of alien races, with some aliens living in the towns as full citizens. A human ship shows up in the orbit. They came from a human colony and want to trade. How are they going to explain to these new humans how they ended up on the planet? The story about a divine intervention might sound slightly odd. Many people think that they should tell the truth, as it wouldn’t be believed anyway, but the new arrivals might refrain from other questions, being afraid of offending religious sensibilities.

The setup is very interesting. Unfortunately, most of the book consists of more or less philosophical discussions, and fairly little actually happens. The aliens, the new human visitors, and even the disappearance of Athene have a pretty minor role and are underdeveloped in the book. The writing was very good, just like in the earlier parts, and even if the discussions were interesting as such (and the book was good and enjoyable), it was a slight disappointment after the two earlier excellent installments.

336 pp.

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