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In a cosmos of prolific evolutionary diversity and complexity, Mallory Ringess, headstrong novice of the Order of Pilots, sets out to penetrate the Soild State Entity and to track down the secret of immortality

552 pages, Mass Market Paperback

First published January 1, 1988

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David Zindell

33 books161 followers
Biography at Wikipedia.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 128 reviews
Profile Image for Terry .
402 reviews2,148 followers
November 8, 2013
This is a really enjoyable 'big idea' science fiction novel that takes place millenia in our future on the planet Icefall, also called Neverness. It's kind of Dune meets Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, Vol 1 with high level mathematics, posthumanism, and trippy metaphysics thrown in.

The story follows the life of Mallory Ringess, a trainee enrolled at "the Academy" that was founded by a pseudo-monastic order of truth-seekers called 'the Order of Mystic Mathematicians and Other Seekers of the Ineffable Flame' hoping to become a pilot. Now in this day and age a pilot is a very special kind of beast who combines the aspects of a theoretical mathematician with those of a questing knight. Using advanced mathematics the pilots are able to navigate within the manifold, a kind of hyperspace that links all parts of the universe, but whose dangers can lead the untrained or the unwary to get lost in the tangled skeins of space-time. The pilots are thus a special breed. They are men and women who live for the precarious dangers of the manifold and who search, quixote-like, for the proof of the elusive Continuum Hypothesis which would allow a pilot to fall from any point in the universe to any other without the complicated mathematical mappings normally required to traverse hyperspace.

It is also a quest for godhood as the pilots search for the secrets known as the Elder Eddas. These secrets are said to allow beings to transcended their mortality and become gods of one sort or another, and the galaxy is sparsely populated with some of these dangerous and unknowable superbeings, former humans whose consciousness is now housed in nebulae or moon-sized computers. This dangerous life has brought about the motto of the pilots: "Journeymen die", for it is few pilots who ever survive to their mastership.

The world Zindell creates is a fascinating one full of strangeness and wonder. Mallory is an interesting character, equal parts idealistic dreamer and pompous ass. His best friend Bardo is even more entertaining...a figure equal parts Falstaff and Porthos. The story bogged down a bit for me in the middle where Mallory and his fellow searchers look for the Elder Eddas among the Alaloi, a group of humans who had 'carked' their flesh and minds to become like the Neanderthals of earth in rejection of the advanced technology used by the other people of Neverness. Overall, however, this is a great tale, bursting at the seams with crazy-awesome ideas that leave a lot of food for the imagination.


Also posted at Shelf Inflicted
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 5 books4,101 followers
October 21, 2020
This one kinda came out of nowhere and hit me up the side of my head.

I mean, you'd have thought I would have known all about the grand classics and any book THIS good has GOT to have about a million readers, RIGHT? At least, this is the grand assumption we (and I mean, me, sadly,) tend to make.

And yet, I've BARELY heard of this book and there's no sign of it ever becoming an audiobook and aside from a few brave glowing reviews that compare it favorably to Dune and La Morte Darthur, my skepticism remained high... UNTIL I read it.

And now, even though I've read something like 2.5k SF novels, I have to come right out and say it: I'm putting this book in my top 20 novels of all time. I'm both squeeing and deeply, deeply impressed.

This is a good thousand years in our future and the galaxy is populated with post-humans who have changed themselves into creatures both alien and familiar and often very, very strange. We begin with Pilots, a version of King Arthur's knights only with high esoteric maths, the need for immense courage because, as it is written in stone, "Pilots Die", and a somewhat simple story of a young journeyman pilot who, showing great bravery, explores a machine intelligence spanning a moon -- and more.

This interesting quest only raises a ton of new questions, and while it seems pretty straightforward, it really isn't. This is a story of the meaning of life. The search for immortality. Of friendship, of love, of parentage, of memory, and of everything from the deepest parts of our past as humans (living as cave-men takes up a great deal of the tale) all the way to immensely futuristic worldbuilding that includes folding space, speeding cognition, vast artificial intelligence, seas of godlike aquatic creatures, nanotech worlds, and... immortality.)

It sticks a pin in everything, and the characters are truly wonderful. They are so damn human. Belligerent, idiotic, sometimes wise, violent, lovers of poetry, funny, and lustful. And let's not forget that they are mathematical geniuses, prone to rage, and they're extraordinary skaters. :)

The worldbuilding is all kinds of amazing and it not only holds together as well as Dune, it feels nearly as vast, as creative, and as interesting as Dune. That's not to say it actually FEELS like Dune except in the ways that certain vast build-ups coalesce, but the comparison is still quite good.

I'm all aglow. I'm probably going to re-read this again in a few years, but first I'm going to be flying into the next book. :) Soon.

To sum up: READ THIS BOOK. It needs to be known. It needs to be talked about among all the SF fandom. If you LIKE SF at all, this ought to be a must-read. It's all kinds of amazing.
Profile Image for Khalid Abdul-Mumin.
213 reviews100 followers
September 19, 2023
"It is age and selfness that kill love. We grow more and more into our true selves every second that we are alive. If there is such a thing as fate it is this: the outer self seeking and awakening to the true self no matter the pain and terror—and there is always pain and terror—no matter how great the cost may be."

A multi-faceted, fascinating idea filled Hard Sci-Fi space opera read.

Nerverness is science fiction just how I like it: thought inducing convolutions! I especially liked his ideas on consciousness, metaprogramming and other sub-programs of the mind.

The plot starts slow and builds up quite fast with a meticulous eye for detailed world-building (of the far future universe, societal structures and the individuals within) that leaves you feeling immersed and in awe of the picture being painted.

Beautifully written and executed, dare I say a real SciFi classic.
"The symbiosis between a pilot and his ship is as profound and powerful as it is deadly addictive. How many pilots, I wondered, had been lost to the manifold because they too often indulged in the power and joy of their extensional brains? Too many. I repeated the vow of obedience mechanically, with little spirit or enthusiasm. The Timekeeper paused, and I thought for a moment he was going to look at me, to chasten me or to make me repeat the fifth vow again. Then, with a voice pregnant with drama, in a ponderous cadence, he said, “The last vow is the holiest vow, the vow without which all your other vows would be as empty as a cup full of air.” So it was that on the ninety–fifth day of false winter in the year 2929 since the founding of Neverness, we vowed above all else to seek wisdom and truth, even though our seeking should lead to our death and to the ruin of all that we loved and held dear."
A true must read for all lovers of big idea Sci-Fi à la Herbert, Asimov, Baxter, Clarke and others.
Profile Image for Simon.
33 reviews1 follower
June 15, 2012
I am a lover of mathematics. I am also a lover of good sci-fi that poses big questions. This novel has both, homerun right? ... Well no.
Let me first say; his book had many things going for it that I could love. Mathematics is a sort of magic, mathematicians use their abilities to calculate and navigate through a manifold (subtle enough poke at string theory possibly) which allows them to explore the universe at amazing scales. In this exploration they can have philosophical conversations with god like beings. these are wins for me.

There are references left and right to things that greatly interest me (set theory, even drug and DMT references). I’m sort of a nerd for these things.
HOWEVER, there are some big negatives. These grew to the point where the novel was just not worth reading anymore.

The biggest of these was the rampant sexism in the book. The first handful of female characters were prostitutes, then the next female characters are introduced in terms of their looks or breasts. I can deal with that, but then his female cousin is introduced and even still the author can't help but turn this into an incestuous relationship. There are even subtle comments about women having lower mathematical abilities than that of men. Now without revealing too much of the plot about a chapter later there is a sort of undercover operation going on with the main group of characters. In this operation TONS of sex is going on between many different people, at one point a father is offering his daughter to have sex with some caveman in hopes of stealing his DNA. It was just too much over sexualizing and sexism for me to even care about the plot anymore.

Not to mention the reader has to believe in a world that is presented as a scientific juggernaut yet is still very primitive in many aspects which I found hard to "accept"
Profile Image for Dirk Grobbelaar.
554 reviews1,093 followers
December 23, 2021

The Entity. She’s a web of million meshing biocomputers the size of moons. She manipulates matter. And She plies energy. And She twists space to Her liking. The manifold inside her is known to be strange, hideously complex.

The above refers to a little something called the Solid-State Entity, which is a Nebula, or an A.I., or a Goddess, or something else entirely, depending on your point of view. Neverness is that kind of book.

There is much about Neverness that is very enjoyable. The story is epic in scope, and takes place in a really interesting setting in the far future. In fact, this is one of the more unique and at the same time more realized future settings you are likely to find. That said, it is a challenge unearthing the story within the story here. There are a lot of ideas to digest, with the physical and the metaphysical intertwined to the nth degree. Science, hard and soft, vie for dominance, in a tale that seeks to determine Humankind’s place in the information system, or ecology (again, a matter of perspective), that is the Universe. Also, immortality, and entropy / stagnation, the nature of God, and so on and so forth.

The original, unifying vision of a spacefaring humanity discovering its place and purpose in the universe had dissolved into a hundred different philosophies, notions and conceits. “But isn’t that the fate of all religions and orders, then? In the end, divisiveness and death?”

It is a strongly philosophical novel, and that accounts in no small part for the moderately hefty page count, but I actually got through Neverness at a fair trot. The pacing is remarkably good, all things considered, with one exception (that I will get to a bit later in this review) and I found the overall story to be very gripping and well written (Zindell’s prose is often remarkable).

Neverness, somehow, felt like a “momentous” book (very difficult to qualify what I mean by this). It has gravitas. It has a unique and fascinating take on space travel (based on mathematics), and even though it sometimes veers off on philosophical tangents or scientific exposition at inopportune moments (like in the middle of a space battle), it is the kind of book that I would imagine Science Fiction readers would have flocked to. It was nominated for a Locus award (for best first novel) and it was nominated for an Arthur C. Clarke award, but somehow it feels like this novel should have made a much bigger blip on the speculative fiction radar.

I made the mapping and fell out around the star. So, I thought this is the group of stars that has terrorized the pilots of my Order; well, it is not so terrible after all. I told myself there was no reason for fear. Then I looked out on the glowing hydrogen clouds, and I was not so sure. The whole nebula seemed dark and strange. There were fewer stars than I had thought there would be, perhaps as few as a hundred thousand. The interstellar dust was too dense, scattering and obscuring the light of even the nearer stars. Grains of graphite and silicates and ices, and iron particles, too, reddened and polarized the dim starlight. Some of the individual dust particles were so gigantic that they seemed not to be dust at all but rather the fragments of planets which had been pulverized and torn apart.

There is a lot going on here, especially considering the first-person narrative (which means there isn’t a big cast of characters). I actually wonder, from a literary point of view, how strongly this qualifies as a bildungsroman; we don’t follow the protagonist from childhood, but he is changed radically over the course of the story in many ways, while still staying true to himself in others.

”I am afraid of losing myself.”

The book is, inevitably, not without faults: character behaviour and response is often bizarre and somewhat inexplicable, just to name an example. Nevertheless, Neverness has the distinction of being one of the few books that could completely redeem itself after almost disappointing me. And this is where I get to the exception that I mentioned earlier: it’s a fairly hefty book, and it does get a wee bit bogged down shortly before the halfway mark, with what I will dub the Alaloi sequence. While I enjoyed the philosophical musings for the most part, all the Neanderthal sex and crudeness eventually just got a bit much. However, there are some pivotal plot reveals toward the close of this sequence and it sets up the rest of the novel. From other reviews here, it does look like this is in fact the portion of the novel that has polarized readers. Stick with it though, it’s worth it.

All in all though, a remarkable book with some Humdinger twists and reveals, not to mention some Brobdingnagian ideas. Recommended, if only to give your mind a bit of a tweak.

”Half-bacterium, half-computer, half-photoelectric cell – a swarm of new life throughout the galaxy, feeding on photons, shielding, becoming a part of the ecology. Such an intelligence – you can’t imagine.”
“And then?”

Profile Image for Fuchsia  Groan.
162 reviews195 followers
March 16, 2020
Ocurre con frecuencia que las novelas de ciencia ficción no terminan de satisfacerme del todo: a menudo las ideas planteadas me parecen buenísimas, interesantes, me resulta muy estimulante imaginar y tratar de comprender la propuesta, pero más allá de eso no hay nada: la trama, los personajes, no consiguen captar mi atención. Esto es lo que me ha ocurrido con Neverness.

Mucho antes de que supiéramos que el precio de la sabiduría y la inmortalidad que buscábamos estaría más allá de lo que podrían pagar nuestros medios, cuando el hombre —lo que quedaba del hombre— era aún como un niño jugando con guijarros y conchas a la orilla del mar, en la época de la búsqueda del misterio conocido como las Antiguas Eddas, oí la llamada de las estrellas y me preparé para marchar de la ciudad de mi nacimiento y muerte.

El doble misterio del planteamiento, el familiar del protagonista y el viaje a lo desconocido, la búsqueda de la verdad sobre el origen de la vida, el secreto de la inmortalidad, el misterio de la naturaleza de Dios y del hombre, me pareció interesante, pero la novela es además muchas otras cosas, en mi opinión demasiadas: saga familiar, ci-fi de ideas, novela de trasfondo filosófico (la libertad como concepto ya muerto, el miedo como motor de la evolución), historia de aventuras, especulación antropológica, space opera matemática... llegando a ser el desarrollo como mínimo desconcertante, errático, al servicio de la exposición de las diferentes ideas y no de una trama bien pensada.
Profile Image for Stephen.
1,516 reviews11.2k followers
March 1, 2010
4.5 to 5.0 stars. WOW!! This is epic, "big idea" science fiction at its best. Reminded me a lot, in tone and scope, of such great novels as Radix by A.A. Attanasio and The Golden Age by John C. Wright. If you like those books, you will definitely like this one. Absolutely superb!!! Highly recommended!!

Nominee: Arthur C. Clarke Award for Best Science Fiction Novel (1990)
Nominee: Locus Award for Best First Novel (1989)
Profile Image for Estelle.
168 reviews103 followers
May 2, 2017
The Good:
- great world building
- some compelling and original ideas
- a good introduction to an (hopefully) epic story
- definitely makes me want to read The Broken God soon

The Bad:
- unlikeable hero
- the other characters aren't great either
- at times repetitive and could have used some editing
- for something so often compared to DUNE it's nowhere as brilliant nor as deep

Overall it was an interesting read and I'm looking forward to digging into the next book (although I'll try to lower my expectations), but I had real issues with the pacing and the uneven quality of writing and storytelling.
Profile Image for Lori Penn.
Author 1 book40 followers
April 3, 2015
At a young age, this booked changed my perspective on life. An amazing journey worth taking.
Profile Image for Jlawrence.
305 reviews143 followers
August 25, 2012
I picked this up because I read several comparisons to Wolfe's The Book of the New Sun, and there are similarities - dense, evocative prose; rich, textured, and unique world-building; a taste for the striking strange - both in well-written imagery and concepts; a young, arrogant, first-person narrator who is not a philosopher but is given to philosophical pondering; a combination of humanity's past with humanity's far-flung future.

Zindell definitely takes his own path though, inspired as he may be by Wolfe (and by one of Wolfe's inspirations, Borges). The biggest difference is Zindell is not being tricky as Wolfe in presentation of story and theme. The book approaches heavy concepts, including the nature of consciousness, and free will vs. determinism, but these things are directly embedded in the problems the main characters face. New Sun worked its themes under the surface and fractured them through its unreliable narrator - when Severian of the New Sun told you something or revealed a thought, it could not be taken at face value. In Neverness, the things the narrator Mallory Ringess deals with -- for example: being a mathematician-pilot who shortcuts through space-time by solving intricate, visualized mathematical calculation-sculptures made while in mental union with his spacecraft's computer; facing a space entity that uses networked moon-size brain-nodes to think its unapproachable thoughts -- are complicated enough that New Sun trickiness would have made it ridiculously obscure.

New Sun is embedded in and explores mystery -- Neverness is about piercing and solving mystery, or, at least, the human drive to do so.

As a member of an order of mathematician pilots who navigate the "manifold" in the manner I mentioned above, Mallory goes from his icy home city of Neverness (where the denizens skate on frozen roads of colored ice, the colors identifying where the road goes) on a quest that sends him deep into the folds of the aforementioned cosmic brain, compels him to live with a tribe that harkens to humanity's prehistory (this part is a great contrast to the city and space settings in the book, and the tribe's life and rituals are as thoroughly realized as the far-future elements. There's also some of the book's most gut-wrenching moments here), and involves him unwittingly in deadly plots between different guilds of Neverness.

There's many fascinating ideas throughout (I haven't even mentioned my favorite, Zindell's particular take on the idea of a warrior-poet), and Zindell includes a lot of human drama (sometimes clunkily, sometimes very effectively (both apply to Mallory's continual conflicts with Soli)) along with the exotic world-building and idea-riffing. The attempts to inject some humor through Mallory's more earthy friend Bardo sometimes fall flat, but I did grow quite fond of Bardo by the end of the novel.

The very end of the book perhaps doesn't live up to all the high stakes Zindell raised, but, overall, the book's a rewarding and imaginative feat.
Profile Image for Диана.
Author 7 books15 followers
Currently reading
December 27, 2013
Although still at 7% through the book, I'm putting 'Neverness' next to 'Dune' as one of the (two) best science fiction books I've come across. Of course in important respects the two books are incomparable - 'Dune' is an epic in whose solemnity 'Neverness' does not, and does not aim at sharing. However maybe there is a reason other than pure admiration that made me compare 'Neverness' to my otherwise all-favourite epic 'Dune': the philosophical depth of the book, the incredible sensitivity with which the author puts meaning behind every word, character, and creation of his, making it clear that each sentence is the result of a thousand observations of the world around and inside us; and not just some bleak filling to an unimaginative plot as is the case with most of the gibberish out there that likes to call itself science fiction.

And before someone has come back at me with the quite appropriate observation that maybe the above-mentioned reason is not 'other than pure admiration' - for maybe this is the quality in a piece of writing that mostly causes admiration itself !! - I will hurry to also praise 'Neverness' for its extraordinary beauty. The aesthetic of the piece is what makes the book much more akin to 'Dune' than to eg the philosophical fiction of Strugratsky brothers. Although in fact the vividness and meticulousness of 'Neverness' is in my reading experience comparable even to Ende's own sublime 'Neverending Story'!

So long, and I am back to strolling the coloured-ice streets of the shimmering City of Light. I just wanted to share from the start that I love this book, and I love the writer. I don't know whether I will write another review when I'm finished, or whether something in the remaining pages will not make me give it a bit lower rating. Nevertheless, I strongly recommend 'Neverness' to all those deep philosophical natures out there, this book will remind you why science fiction is your favourite genre; it is so for a reason. In no other genre the writer has such a freedom to put so much meaning and beauty behind every shade of the fictional world created - as David Zindell does here, masterfully.
Profile Image for Shaitanah.
282 reviews29 followers
August 15, 2017
I really wanted to like this book. I had high hopes going in because the world-building seemed interesting and unique and I've seen the novel draw comparisons with Dune, which happens to be one of my top favourites of all time. Unfortunately, Neverness proved to be very much not my cup of tea. The plot is an epic mess, the world-building never gets explained (the author just throws planet names and made-up words at us like we're supposed to know what he's talking about), and the writing style, while, admittedly, quite beautiful, is not without faults either. I was particularly annoyed by the author's tendency to list the full names of minor characters that existed basically to serve as cannon fodder: to die in battle or to show us that the Order had other pilots aside from the main characters. Yes, I get it, all those people have names... which don'ty tell me anything at all about them! Why should I care if they live or die if they have contributed exactly nothing to the plot?
This, unfortunately, goes for most of the characters, and if the men have at least some semblance of personality (Bardo and Soli in particular), then the women are just there to be continuously sexualized and possibly murdered. There is a lot of sex in this book, which, again, contributes nothing to the plot and is quite often disguistingly portrayed. While we're at it, there are definitely descriptions I could do without here, and if the Devaki's "meat orgy" at least serves to illustrate how they differ from the "civilized" people, then the continuous mention of Bardo's farts is neither here nor there.
Another thing I really wanted to enjoy was the Ringess/Soli family conflict - but I couldn't. Moira, who initially seemed like an interesting character, was mostly in the background and then died without having done anything remotely engaging to the reader. Why does Soli hate Moira? Why is stealing his DNA to give birth to Mallory (a plot twist anyone with eyes would have seen coming a mile away btw) such a great crime? We are told it IS a crime, but in the universe where people alter their own genes to become some weird seal hybrids taking somebody's genetic material without permission doesn't seem like such an important offence. Why do Mallory and Soli hate each other? Because of Soli's broken nose? Because of the "slel-necking" revelation? Beats me. Hate isn't always rational and easily explained, particularly between family members, and the author does point out how thin the line between love and hate can be, but in the long run, whatever facets Soli and Mallory's conflict might have, they're all lost in the grand mess of things. The final portion of the book manages to correct that, but for me, it comes too late. The whole war of the pilots subplot seems even messier and more ridiculous than the first half of the novel. I get that the war is supposed to have started because of some tragic misunderstandings, but the way it's written, I don't see that.
The romance in the book is simply laughable (Bardo/Justine) and downright creepy when it comes to Mallory/Katharine. It doesn't help that neither of the women have enough personality to make them appealing: one is a walking apple of discord and the other is a plot device.
What was the final straw for me was that the parallels with Dune weren't simply on the level of scope and scale. Some plot elements are very clearly borrowed directly from Dune: Mallory's impending godhood; the "racial" memory; Mallory's scrying abilities. But where Muad'Dib's motives are clear and understandable and his transition to the divine status is a slow and tragic process, Mallory comes off mostly as a faceless narrator whose motivations are murky and whose personality is regrettably bland.
I really wish I'd liked the book, but unfortunately, this is not my type of a story.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Dalibor Dado Ivanovic.
366 reviews23 followers
June 12, 2022
Dobro je ovo, dakle ne mogu trenutno reci da me nesto pravo ponjelo ali je ok. dosta ne podsjeca na Knjigu Novog Sunca od Gene Wolfea, koja mi je bila izvrsna, tako da mozda ovoliko filozofije u ovom trenu zivota mi ne pase. Nesto izmedju Wolfea i Delanya, ali nije toliko dobro.

No nakon nekoliko godina, počeo ponovno i stvarno, eto nisam niti znao da imam tako dobru knjigu u polici.
Na žalost nije prevedeno ništa osim toga, a ima i priča dosta i romana, izvrsno piše.
Profile Image for Tudor Ciocarlie.
457 reviews215 followers
January 10, 2015
This book is everything that Ridley Scott's Prometheus wanted to be.

An excellent blend of almost every science-fictional sub-genre out there: space-opera, horror, post-singularity and superhuman, apocalyptic fiction, military and anthropological science fiction and even a little bit of post-cyberpunk and time-travel.

Unfortunately, in 1998, Neverness was probably too much and now, after all its themes were overused in the last 25 years, its newness and shine have disappeared a little. Still, Neverness remains a formidable achievement.
Profile Image for Marinus Opperman.
4 reviews3 followers
January 9, 2014
No respecting reader of speculative fiction would dare to neglect reading this book a few times. Although probably intended as a single volume, it starts the reader on a four book journey.

This book starts in a universe where mathematics enable one to traverse the universe and discover the wonders and dangers our galaxy holds. Many disciplines are touched from the art of poetry to that of anthropology and philosophy.

Enjoy this first book with the knowledge that the best is yet to come.
Profile Image for Carl Barlow.
307 reviews4 followers
March 25, 2021
Certain books are regular rereads for me, because I know that, as well the warm glow of nostalgia for the remembered glories, I will get something new from them at each reading. Neverness is one of those books.

It is easy to say that, superficially, Neverness is Dune with snow instead of sand. Its scope is epic, as is its word count, its hero verges upon godhood, its setting is a far distant future that yet seems strangely old-fashioned in its attitudes (rigidly compartmentalised society, with honour and pride and social standing of great importance), there is prescience, there is race memory, there is survival in the harshest of environments.

But there is more going on than cloning that other epic masterwork. There are two other apparent genre influences that need to be mentioned: specifically, there is The Book of the New Sun - its Gothic atmosphere, its age-old grandeur and mystery, but mainly the similarities to be seen between Mallory Ringess and the journeyman torturer, Severian (potential godhood has already been mentioned, but there's also the fact that neither are particularly likeable (they are both self-centred, rarely empathic or sympathetic, and if they had 'Self-Assured' tattooed across their arses they would both be lost up them... respectively). More generally, there is a dusting of Jack Vance in the disparate and often frankly funny factions and their various beliefs, the romanticism, the quiet nobilities and all-too human foolishnesses, the wry acknowledgment of Humanity's achievements and audacity. (It has to be said, however, that brevity is not a Vancian characteristic Zindell employs - where the former would take a few sentences to get a point over, Zindell might take a few page-long paragraphs... and yet it rarely comes across as overdone.)

But Neverness, like the nebulae deities he writes about, transcends such comparisons. It is, at the end, its very own style of epic SF. It is much grittier and grounded than any of those examples, it philosophises much more (yes, even more than Dune), it glories in all kinds of beauty (artificial, mathematical, natural, creative (some of the names -for stars, for people- Zindell comes up with simply beg to be spoken aloud)), it's unafraid of being cool (warrior-poet assasins, lightships that hark back to the sleek pointy things of the fifties, noble savages on the frozen seas).

In short, it revels in all things and in itself. And every time I read it, I do the same.
Profile Image for Arik Vlaanderen.
13 reviews
November 15, 2020
Giving it a 5 star, should be 4,5. I thought the Alaloi part was too stretched out. It would've probably make the Alaloi part in the later trilogy more logical though, I thought there it was a bit too short but I read those first :) The second half of the book really did it for me, that was quite brilliant and wholly original. I love the mashup of philosophy and psychology with mathematics and other sciences. Perfect for fantasy/sci fi readers. If you're only into sci fi this one might be a bit much.
Profile Image for Tibor Merlak.
Author 1 book27 followers
June 21, 2018
one of my favourite books of all time. Its a total mystery to me how the author of this very unique and inspirational book could have also written "the EA-Cycle" which was very dull and stereotype in my opinion
Profile Image for Chris T.
34 reviews4 followers
October 20, 2014
Review Source @ ChrisTheo.com

The story follows Mallory Ringess, a young Pilot of the Order that finds himself in deep space on a mission that could have been entirely avoided if he wasn’t such a hot-headed, arrogant and stubborn man-child. Zindell expertly tells this tale in the first person and gives us the insight into Mallory’s personality necessary for us to warm to him. It’s ultimately this decision that allows the novel to succeed so completely. As a reader you find yourself sympathising with the flawed pilot and before long you are cheering for him on his dangerous quest. Each trial leaves Mallory changed and it’s these changes that contribute to one of the main themes of the book, is it possible to transcend our genetic programming and control our destinies?

Secondary and ancillary characters are handled just as deftly as our protagonist. Mallory’s portly best friend Bardo provides welcome comic relief during some of the most thematically sombre parts of the novel. But he is no mere mouthpiece. There is a depth to Mallory and Bardo’s relationship that really lifts the novel and gives it a great warmth and familiarity. Another character highlight is the Lord Pilot of the Order Soli whose frictional relationship with Mallory is responsible for some of the most gut-wrenching moments I’ve read. The range of emotions that these relationships invoke in the reader adds a complexity that is often missing in a lot of science fiction and adventure novels. As such, every event carries with it a weight that supersedes those in most space operas.

In addition to depth and complexity, the sheer scope of this novel is nothing short of astounding. It’s easy to see why Zindell has been compared with the likes of Olaf Stapledon and even Tolkien. The scale of his adventure juxtaposed against an intimate first person narrative imbues a sense of wonder in the reader. It’s a feat few novels achieve and even fewer manage to sustain this over hundreds of pages. Like a rag doll I was catapulted from the microcosm of Neanderthal life to a tragic war in the in the far reaches of space and back again. And I liked it. A lot.

Combine these elements – an ambitious story, well rounded characters and themes that connect humanity across thirty thousand years of imagined future and you have an the makings of a great, timeless novel. But Zindell doesn’t stop there, because he also writes beautifully. His words are a pleasure to read, his descriptions succinct yet powerful and his prose poetic. There was one moment I remember clearly, where Mallory and Soli were riding their sleds across the snow in freezing conditions and Zindell’s words shot a shiver of cold down my body.

But it was too cold to snow. We depended on the cold, even though the cold knifed through our furs and chilled us to the core. In truth, the cold nearly killed us. It was so cold that the snow was dry and gritty like sand. The air held no moisture, and the sky was deep blue, almost blue-black like an eschatologist’s folded robes. The dry chill air worked at our noses until they began to bleed. We sucked in air hard as icicles, and we felt ice points crystallizing in our nostrils, freezing and cutting our warm, tunnelled flesh.

It would be easy to imagine another writer struggle to explore the kind of themes present in the novel. But Zindell uses the first person narrative to great effect, with Mallory’s personal journey of change and discovery serving as the novel’s main method of thematic exposition.

We are sheep awaiting the butcheries of time; we are clots of brain tissue and bundles of muscle, meat machines that jump to the touch of our most immediate passions; we – I have said this before – we react rather than act; we have thoughts in place of thinking. We are, simply, robots; robots aware that we are robots, but robots nonetheless.

And yet. And yet we are something more. I have seen a dog, Yuri’s beloved Kyoko, a lowly beast whose programs were mostly muzzle and hunger, growls and smell, overcome her fear and flight programs to hurl herself at a great white bear, purely out of love for her master. Even dogs possess a spark of free will. And for humans, within each of us, I believe, burns a flame of free will. In some it is tenuous and dim as an oilstone’s flame; in others it burns hot and bright. But if our will is truly free, why do our robot programs run our bodies and minds? Why do we not run our programs? Why do we not write our own programs? Was it possible that all women and men could free themselves and thus become their own masters?

As I came to the end of this marvellous adventure I found myself very reluctant to let Mallory and Neverness go, to the point where I almost flipped the book over and started again at page one. I simply have too many good books to read, not to mention the sequels, but I have no doubt that I will return to this novel sooner rather than later. And while I’m hesitant to say such a thing so soon after finishing it, I can’t deny the impact this book has had on me. It’s one of, if not the best book I’ve read. And I’ve read a lot.

Profile Image for Nikola Pavlovic.
284 reviews42 followers
March 14, 2016
Fantasticna knjiga. Mnogo je porede sa DInom, ja bih jos samo dodao da je treba uporediti i sa knjigom Plamen nad Ponorom Vernona Vindza. Od zvezda do kamenog doba i nazad. Ovu knjigu ce voleti i filozofi i matematicari kao i oni koji vole kvalittno avanturisticko stivo. Zivot u njoj je brutalno realno opisan. Zindel ne stedi nikoga.
Profile Image for Andres Borbon.
Author 9 books29 followers
June 17, 2019
Una novela fenomenal. Llena de momentos espectaculares e ideas novedosas (al menos para mí). Cuando, antes de leer la novea, me enteré que se trataba de pilotos-matemáticos-místicos tuve mis dudas. Finalmente, y haciendo caso a múltiples recomendaciones, comencé la lectura sin mucha fe, sin gran entusiasmo. ¡Me alegro de haberlo hecho!

Algunos han comparado esta novela a Dune o a algunas de las series más revolucionarias, como la de Orson S. Card. Sin embargo, no creo que sea para tanto. No llega a ese nivel "legendario", pero pocas veces he disfrutado tanto con una novela de ciencia ficción. Es épica, llena de detalles alucinantes, de ideas que hacen que la imaginación gire sin control. Pero tiene serias dificultades, serios problemas, y Zindell comete algunos pecados graves. Hay un serio problema de sexismo en la obra, lo cual no sería tan grave si, además, los personajes estuviesen bien construidos. En lugar de eso, son pobres y carecen de profundidad. El protagonista es, simplemente, un patán lleno de traumas infantiles, egoísta y ruin. La trama lo pone en posición de alcanzar la grandeza pero, dejando de lado su obvia inteligencia, es un individuo pequeño, mezquino y más interesado en alimentar su vanidad que algún ideal ético. Lejos de concebir lo trascendental desde un punto de vista emotivo, lo asimila solo intelectualmente.

Además, Zindell parece tener un grave problema con las personas que padecen autismo. Cada vez que se refiere a ellos (y lo hace en varias ocasiones), los pinta como desagradables, sucios, repulsivos y detestables.

Pero... si el lector es capaz pasar por alto las transgresiones antes mencionadas... la novela es fenomenal. Una de las grandes en la historia de la ciencia ficción.
203 reviews33 followers
January 16, 2020
This is a huge, complex books full of big SF ideas. But it's also one of the most uneven or inconsistent books I've ever read. I think it's simply way too big, and too heavy going. Zindell could've written 3 really, really good books based around the plots, characters, worlds, concepts etc. which he's tried to cram into this one. There were parts of the book that I really, really enjoyed (Alaloi), and parts I could do without (Agathanians), but I know what I would really, really enjoy - a well made TV series based on this book 😁
Profile Image for Ryan Shaw.
37 reviews5 followers
August 26, 2020
One of my favorite books

Oh, how I love this book.

Dense and mathematical, spiritual and logical, mystical and real; this book is a touch-point in my existence.

Absurd to say, and I must sleep now.

Profile Image for Tom.
51 reviews3 followers
December 9, 2022
Epic space opera that engages in profound metaphysical meditation on what it means to be human.

Warning: spoiler alert!!

For thee millennia the Order of Mystic Mathematicians and Other Seekers of the Ineffable Flame (the Order) has been exploring the great mysteries of the Universe from its powerbase in the city of Neverness on the planet Icefall, only one civilised world out of the 4,000 in the galaxy. There is no greater mystery than the secret of life, and David Zindell’s epic space opera launches into an investigation of what it means to be human by envisioning a galaxy teeming with different lifeforms, from engineered primitivist tribes to planet-size machine intelligences.

The story follows the young pilot, Mallory Ringess as he joins the Order’s quest to solve the mystery of the Elder Eddas, ancient knowledge passed down by the extinct civilisation known as the Ieldras and said to contain the secrets of life and the blueprint for mankind to achieve godhood. The Order’s quest is tied into an extinction threat taking place in the remote galactic region of the Vild where a self-replicating human society is advancing at an exponential rate by blowing up and consuming whole stars. Mallory’s uncle, also a pilot and recently returned from a mission, has picked up a signal from the Ieldras, which suggests that not only is the Elder Eddas encoded in the oldest DNA of man, but also that by decoding it the galaxy can be saved.

Neverness is essentially a meditation on technology’s capacity for remodelling our understanding of what it means to be human. Upon leaning that the Elder Eddas is encoded in ancient human DNA, Mallory comes up with a plan to steal tissue samples from the Alaloi tribes which live as hunters in a remote region of Icefall. The Alaloi stem back to humanity’s emigration from Old Earth known as the Waves of Swarming, and even if they themselves have forgotten their origin, it is known to Mallory that they are in fact the bioengineered outcome of a group of people who spliced themselves with Neanderthal DNA in order to return to a more natural state of life. As Mallory has his body modified in order to be able to pass as an Alaloi, he himself leaves behind his posthuman reality, an eye-opening experience in the most basic sense as he has never seen meat butchered, never seen an old man.

Mallory’s quest doesn’t end with the Alaloi tribe, in fact it fails to generate the promised insights, and as a pilot of the Order he must continue the mission alone in his spaceship. On the watery planet of Agathange, Mallory encounters an aquatic species the origin of which also dates back to the Waves of Swarming. Here the initial group of Terran ecologists, determined to save sea mammals, have ended up bioengineering a whole new species, a hybridisation of machine, human and sea mammals, that has since evolved into a hive consciousness, spanning the whole planet. Mallory is allowed to experience their way of life, setting in motion a meditation on the origin of the programs that run our lives: whether we are pre-programmed or have free will, whether there is a program deity, and if so, has that deity been programmed.

The concept of a life progenitor, the existence of a God, is no more present perhaps than in Mallory’s encounter with the Solid State Entity, a nebula of moon-sized machine intelligences so complex that it defies any attempt to understand it, a system capable of manipulating spacetime and creating anything at will. Here creation is presented as a mathematical game, a technological black box that can create ex nihilo. The existence of an entity immensely more advanced than humans feeds the existential dread that runs through much of the book, asking the question whether mankind is nothing but a waystation on life’s relentless march towards ever more complexity. The idea that humanity is at risk of obsolescence in the face of advancing technology informs much of the best sf since 1980, whether it is Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun (1980-1983), Dan Simmons’ Hyperion Cantos (1989-1997), M John Harrison’s Kefanuchi Tract Trilogy (2002-2012), or Peter Watts’ still ongoing Blindsight series (2006-2014?). No one comes close to the philosophical depth with which Zindell tackles the issue of the human condition though.

”I did not know. I could not know. I had seen less than a millionth part of her, and She had probably needed only the tiniest portion of that part to speak with me mind to mind. I was like a grain of sand trying to understand an ocean from the eddies and currents sweeping it along: I was like a flower trying to deduce space travel from the faint tickle of starlight upon its delicate petals. To this day I search for words describing my impression of the Entity’s power, but there are no words.”
Profile Image for Peter.
596 reviews20 followers
December 26, 2020
In the city of Neverness the order of Pilots are the ones with the mathematical skill to travel through space faster than anybody else, always honing their craft and trying to prove more complex theorems to aid in this. Mallory Ringess is a new pilot, but cursed with a connection to one of the most famous members of the order his ambition gets him into trouble... but also puts him in place to potentially solve the biggest mysteries of all, including what is causing certain stars to go Nova.

This is a story set in the far future, but it's one of those stories where it's set so far in the future that they decide to deal with it by essentially making it a fantasy book. And I don't mean "the technology is so advanced it's practically magic" but almost the reverse, that technology is standing in for magic in another story. This is one of those stories where, yes, it has space ships powered by math, but if you replaced them with sailing ships powered by magic, replaced the hyperadvanced AIs with Gods, very little would change, and it would probably fit with the rest of the world better. Because the city of Neverness might as well be a fantasy city, where apparently no one uses cars or firearms, where there are guilds, where it seems very patriarchical (though some people in it come from matriarchal societies). In general the female characters don't fare very well, either, either wives, mothers, prostitutes, or the object of affection of the main characters.

Now, sometimes "far future but with social dynamics more like a fantasy world" can work out well, like Dune does, but for me, this one didn't pull it off and just left me not really caring what happens because I wanted to read a science fiction book, not a fantasy novel with a few sci-fi buzzwords. When it veers away from this model (like when they're actually in space) the book occasionally rises to the level of interesting, but those parts are few and far between, and sometimes it gets even worse. Not only do I have to endure "it's the far future but it's a fantasy city" far too often with a character who is unlikable and frankly not interesting enough to make that a positive (actually most characters in this book aren't very likeable or interesting)... but then for an interminably long section of the book the main characters infiltrate a pre-technological society barely managing to endure in an arctic setting, hunting seal-like animals and running dog sleds and oh my god was I ever bored when I was hoping to read a science fiction book.

The book also drags on and on, and plenty of it (not just the scenes on the tundra) could have been significantly shortened and nothing of value would be lost. There was what felt like a ten page sequence where everybody tries to repair a radio and fails. "We tried our best to repair it, but none of us were that familiar with it and in the end we failed." There, I just saved ten pages that didn't need to be in the book.

Towards the end we get treated to some ridiculous elements as revelations to spur forward another section of the book and some quasi-SF mysticism. I'm probably reacting a little harsher to this because these parts came up in my reading shortly after I finally got around to finishing the final season of a long-running SF series I mostly enjoyed prior seasons of, but--in their final few episodes--touched on similar themes and disappointed me badly, and so, fresh off that, seeing some of the same ideas crop up here brought back that sour taste in my mouth.

But in the end, I did not like this book and will not be reading anything else in this universe. The small, isolated parts I did like ALMOST is enough to rise it up to a 2 star rating in my book (if only by bumping my score far enough to let me round up) but in the end I think I have to leave it at one star as a better reaction of my feelings. I got this book for free (legally, was a limited time offer which is the only reason I checked it out) and still felt like I didn't get my money's worth.
Profile Image for Dawn Quixote.
190 reviews
May 27, 2021
I found my copy of Neverness at a church bring-and-buy sale around 1993. I don't remember if it was the cover that caught my eye or if the person selling their books (for mere pennies towards the church roof) persuaded me to buy it. What I do remember it that I LOVED it, I read it and reread it from the age of 15 till the end of my teens. I remember pleading with my friends to read it but they never managed to make it through the 600+ pages. They didn't get the beauty of mathematics and become obsessed with the poetry of Blake. In my whole lifetime I have met only one other who has read and loved this book.
At 16 I wrote a letter to David Zindell (never sent and now lost) crying out my praises. I wrote my own sci-fi stories (terrible, plagiarised and thankfully also lost) inspired by his words and worlds. This was my favourite book, of then but of all time?
It's been over 20 years since I last read Neverness and nearly 25 years since I first read it. I was wary to pick up the old pages and return there, would I still feel as much as I did then (for, like many a teen-ager, I felt too much)? Had I changed too much to fall through the stars with Mallory and return to the Devaki?
I need not have feared. This is still my favourite book. Perhaps I have become cruel and callous as in the past the pages had choked me to tears but over these few days I barely sniffed. But I still felt, I was there among them all yet again, careening across the ice or floating in the belly of their lightships. I understood so much more, words that I had assumed were alien invention suddenly had new meaning when I saw their roots (although I had a dictionary by my bed when I read as a teen it was puny in comparison to Zindell's vocabulary and there was no Google to quickly check a word or fact).
I cannot describe this book, what it meant to me or why I still love it. All I can do is implore you to read it, to give yourselves up to it and let it open your mind to the universe.

"What good is a warrior without a war, a poet without a poem".
Profile Image for Scott.
312 reviews5 followers
July 11, 2014
"I journeyed on, and my ship seemed like a dark, stale tomb imprisoning me, darker by far than the Timekeeper's stone cell. As a germinated seed seeks its way out of the ground into the light of day, I longed to break free of the old thought ways that stifled me and restrained my inspiration". David Zindell's Neverness balances itself as an epic tale of an anthropological expedition set out in deep space, written in densely earnest philosophical prose, often contemplating what it means to be human. Are we more than just sheep or pre-programmed robots? If so, who programmed the programmers? The novel is all at once contemplative, grossly disturbing, mythic, hard tech, mind expanding, immersive and quite surprising in detail, as if Zindell had envisioned this story within a fevered dream and wrote it all down. I enjoyed it, but at the same time felt it could have been edited back a bit, as some episodes within the book seemed over explained or needlessly lengthy. Heavy on exposition, this will be a book for those who like their science fiction exceedingly ruminative, and addressing questions as to what our moments in time mean for ourselves.
14 reviews
August 21, 2021
A really good read - explores a beautiful concept of using complex mathematics to navigate through space and time. The author uses several philosophies and analogies and discusses a huge number of ideas, and takes the readers on an insightful journey across pre-historic survival, advanced marine civilizations, and planetary sentience in deep space; so much so that the change of context and setting is performed extremely well. The author even manages to bring in well structured action sequences as well as an engaging suspense-filled plot that ends in unexpected twists.

I recommend it as a must read for sci-fi fans.
Profile Image for Fidan Selim-Zade.
23 reviews17 followers
February 13, 2018
It has been a long time since I read a sci-fi novel on Space Opera genre, though it is one of the my most favorite genres.. The reason is I've read so much of it I was struggling to find a new one that could hook me on from the very beginning. Neverness has vastly amused me with its world, and perspective of human civilization in the Universes of space and mind. I found it to be true science fiction novel with the nontrivial idea of future, human society, and vision on evolution of mind.

".. our humanity - our very selvesmore is defined by our weaknesses than by our strengths" - the quote describing the idea I was thinking of last couple of months, and was pleased to find in the shaped form in the character's (author's) mind.
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