Mindjammer is a book which shows its origins. The author is a gaming professional and, as someone who’s dabbled in in Science Fiction RPGs myself, this comes through both in the book’s structure and in the approach taken to telling the story. Rather than focusing on a single character, we’re with a group, and whilst the group dynamic can be interesting, the frequent switches of viewpoint make it hard to engage emotionally with any one character, and hence with the book. Structurally, the author presents a series of scenarios, and it can be hard to keep track of where, why and what the overall aim is.
Despite these negatives, there’s good stuff in here. Newton paints a rich, deep and complex future, especially in the use of the Mindscape, a mental space shared by all humanity. The Mindscape changes the way the world works – as it should – although personally I’d like to have seen more made of how it changed people’s relationships and day-to-day worldview.
What the book does do well is to use science fiction to explore big questions: about consciousness, and what it is to be human, and where developments like the Mindscape might ultimately lead.
In a rather odd counterpoint to its philosophical foundations, the style is consciously ‘pulpy’, which makes for excitement, although I never really felt the characters were in danger. I also found the pacing a bit irregular, possibly another result of its game origins.
So: as a novel it has its flaws, but that doesn’t stop Mindjammer being worth a read, especially for anyone familiar with SF gaming. It’s a sophisticated extrapolation of current tech, with a thoughtful background and plenty of rollicking adventure.