Some science-fiction books can be enjoyed by nature of their refined characters or clarity of narrative. Some can be enjoyed for their allegorical impact. Some can be enjoyed for the bold vision, and others can be enjoyed for their pure, unadulterated madness. File A Quantum Mythology squarely under the latter.
It kicks off with a machine-gunning of short hooks, jumping from an alternative version of today to a Pict-like tribe encountering a mythical threat and a far future filled with crazy creations, outlandish technology and unflinching brutality. All of these strands are connected in more ways than one, eventually mixing the three main narratives into a unified epic.
Smith benefits from his obvious knowledge of medieval history in tribal chapters, painting a vivid portrait of a world you believe in, even if his version is very much larger than life. Similarly, he taps into the (post-)modern fascination with superpowers in the contemporary part of the story while mixing an alien element into the adventurous proceedings.
However, the far-future (and far-out) space opera aspect of A Quantum Mythology might be the one to divide opinion the most. On one level, his fearless approach to strange names, fantastical concepts and speculative technology contains thrilling echoes of Peter F Hamilton on a good day. On another, it constantly threatens to derail the whole story, as the necessary suspension of disbelief is strained at times.
He comes up with concepts and technologies almost as fast as you could write them, but their function, be it technical or narrative, is often less than clear. It’s also where Smith’s tendency toward the generic in dialogue sequence shows the most. Still, with a sense of action befitting an IMAX blockbuster and a relentless onslaught of invention, the pure sense of fun overrides any doubts you might have.
Yes, it’s expansive – sometimes too huge for its own good, presenting more characters and concepts than it knows what to do with. But A Quantum Mythology delivers a mad and entertaining sci-fi epic.