Is that what happened to Mercier?” “No—not quite. In so far as I understood Sukhoi’s work, it appeared that the zero-mass state would be very difficult to realise physically. As it neared the zero-mass state, the vacuum would be inclined to flip to the other side. Sukhoi called it a tunnelling phenomenon.” Clavain raised an eyebrow. “The other side?” “The quantum-vacuum state in which matter has imaginary inertial mass. By imaginary I mean in the purely mathematical sense, in the sense that the square root of minus one is an imaginary number. Of course, you immediately see what that would imply.” “You’re talking about tachyonic matter,” Clavain said. “Matter travelling faster than light.
Humanity in 26th century achieves a level of space traveling and technological development which triggers ancient machines called Inhibitors designed to detect and eliminate intelligent life. Inhibitors have their own, well thought reasons to these purges. They are not mindless, evil machines, but instruments intended to preserve life in the long term.
The plot follows the search for several doomsday weapons hidden on a lighthugger, the name for human spacefaring ships. The protagonist, Clavain, is a bit of an old maverick, crossing between human factions.
The book explores the question of why we are alone in the universe despite having a rather middle aged galaxy. The book and the overall series is an extremely well thought and well written universe. While the plot is good, but not exceptional, the profoundness of technological development and realism of astrophysical phenomena is astounding. This is an exceptional hard sci-fi and I am puzzled why it was not nominated for any sci-fi prizes.
As in the previous book, the vocabulary used is gargantuan, making it an educational reading, including a good introduction in astrophysics. Even more impressive, the wording is not hindering the pace of the story, which makes the novel a beautiful crafted and immersive reading.
On the downside, the length of the book is rather excessive and some more limitations on technology could be envisaged.
Overall, this is a fantastic hard sci-fi novel.