The price of greater life is death . . . . In an age of exploding stars and other cataclysmic galactic events in which Homo sapiens has long since split into different kinds, Mallory Ringess becomes a pilot of the Order of Mystic Mathematicians and Other Seekers of the Ineffable Flame. His quest to find the Elder Eddas – nothing less than the secret of life embroidered in humanity’s oldest DNA – will lead him from Neverness’s streets of colored ice into the deadly manifold, the “space beneath space” whose topology writhes and twists with hideous complexity like a nest of psychedelic snakes. Journeying in his lightship The Immanent Carnation far across the Milky Way, Mallory enters the Solid State Entity, a nebula-sized brain composed of moonlike biocomputers analogous to neurons. There is he tested; there he asks about the Ieldra, a mythical race of aliens said to have seeded the galaxy with its DNA eons before and to have initiated the evolutionary cycle.
Mallory returns to Neverness with the conviction that the Elder Eddas may be found among the Alaloi tribes, whose genes have been "back-mutated" to give the Alaloi the appearance of Neanderthals. A continuation of Mallory’s quest will take him to these ancient people and see him bludgeoned to death, cryogenically frozen, then resurrected as half man, half biocomputer – kin of sorts to the Solid State Entity. In the war that follows, he will be asked to discard the last vestiges of humanity in return for mankind's ultimate salvation. Only in the novel’s final pages will Mallory finally grasp the infinite possibilities of evolution and thereby change the course of the universe.
– The Times
"Ideas splash out of Zindell’s mind and flow across the pages of this book – yet the action doesn’t stop for them. Rather the ideas pick up the story and sweep it along . . . a brilliant novel. I wish I had written this book."
– Orson Scott Card
"A thick, lush, vivid, panoramic view of evolved humans in an evolving universe far in the future"
– Twilight Zone
"One of the finest talents to appear since Kim Stanley Robinson and William Gibson – perhaps the finest"
– Gene Wolfe
"David Zindell’s novel has the big screen splash and color of Jack Vance, but with an epic complexity. His feat of universe crafting propels him instantly into the big leagues with the likes of Frank Herbert and Ursula K. LeGuin."
– Edward Bryant
After acclaim in recent years for his short fiction ("Shanidar''), Zindell delivers a typical first novel: talented, ambitious, wildly uneven and desperately in need of more editing. This is the story of Mallory Ringess, starting with his induction as a pilot in the Order of Mystic Mathematicians. Seeking nothing less than the secret of life, Mallory flies to the Solid State Entity, a computer goddess whose mental space is a treacherous interstellar region. Navigation and survival depend on the pilot's solving the intellectual tests put before him. Following this lively rite-of-passage opener, however, is a melodramatic multi-page sequence of primitive life among an Eskimo-like people. Several hundred more pages are devoted to the city of Neverness, and to Mallory's rebellion against his father, the Lord Pilot. Cliches and fortune-cookie profundities are unfortunately interspersed amid thoughtful philosophic concepts and challenging writing, recalling early John Barth, particularly Giles Goat-Boy.