Noumenon by Marina J. Lostetter

On Sale: July 2017, ISBN-13: 9780062497840


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(in Kantian philosophy) a thing as it is in itself, as distinct from a thing as it is knowable by the senses through phenomenal attributes.

Imagine it is the future. Not the distant future, mind you, but a close enough world in which large scale spaceship creation and launch is possible.

Imagine the discovery of a star. Not just any star, mind you, but one whose luminescence pattern suggests that it is encapsulated in a larger structure. A structure that is not natural, nor is it made by humankind. It is an anomaly; an apparition; a noumenon, if you will.

Humanity decides to embark on the greatest adventure of all—to build generation ships that will traverse the three centuries to reach the noumenon and study it, then return to Earth to report back on their findings. Instead of recruiting humans to make the trip, or perfecting cryosleep, a system of clones, birthed carefully over the generations, is created.

Noumenon is their story.

And, damn, I loved it. At first blush, Marina J. Lostetter’s debut novel is classic space opera science fiction: an intergenerational ship populated by humans far from home, travel across the cosmos in the name of hope and discovery. But Noumenon isn't really about the star these intrepid humans seek to study, nor is it a tale about humanity’s struggle to live in a hostile environment so far removed from their native home. Rather, Noumenon questions the concept of “home” and Tiakovsky’s (TK) notion of Earth being the cradle of mankind.

Noumenon explores how our sense of home, of community, of shared culture and experience changes over space and time. Through a narrative of strung-together vignettes spanning centuries, leadership struggles, and challenges to the very fabric of social order and socioeconomic hierarchy, Noumenon is an utterly complex piece of SFF awesomeness. There are bountiful generation ship stories in the genre canon, and many of them deal with the same cultural, scientific, and basic societal issues tackled in this book. What makes Lostetter’s take so memorable, however, is the novel’s enduring empathy and its focus on the community aspect of human nature. The masterminds who planned for the initial ship journey towards the distant star are focused on mechanics, engineering and physics of deep space travel—but more than that, they are focused on the concept of community strength above all else, in order for the ship-bound society to bond and work together.

This is a story about humanity at its best and its worst--and somehow, the novel manages to be optimistic in the face of the most dire situations. Through the perspective of clones—there are limited models, but many copies—we see how the centuries unfold. This is not a story so much about the noumenon itself, or even the return home to Earth; it is a saga of people over time.

I loved it.

In Book Smugglerish, 9 intergenerational clone seed ships out of 10.