by John Clute

Rating: ★★★★★

Wow. Okay. So, I've been playing around with a few one-sentence summaries, and I think the closest I can get is to ask you to imagine what you'd get if John Milton had an erotic dream while possessed by the LSD-tripping ghost of Vernor Vinge. Even then, I'm selling it short.

In a lot of science-fiction, the weirdness is safely confined to the setting. More adventurous authors play with strange plot. And yes, to be sure, Clute is not easily outdone there. We have regular autophagy, a naked mankind whose gazes may never meet, and a story where the passage through the Inferno is navigated entirely coitally, with the ultimate aim of launching a war upon God (who is also plaque).

But what makes me really celebrate this book is the language. Clute's erotic theological space opera might seem to be about having sex with (/eating) a woman, a planet, or possibly God, but really it is Clute ravishing the English language. In public, no less. Whether describing the apocalypse of a city-world, or dialogue taking place in the nanoseconds between high-speed action, it is constantly surprising and delightful -- 'inventive' I think would be slander, Clute does not need to make up words, with such a rich palette to choose from.

The book is, to be sure, exhausting. It does not so much arc as spiral into a crescendo, slipping away from the concerns and premises with which it started. I could understand losing patience with it, if Clute's playful language doesn't resonate with you, if you're expecting something conventional and easily comprehensible. But if you're after something really operatic in your space opera, something like an epic poem written by and for Culture GSVs, you should try this.