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Book Reviews

The Commons

by Matthew Hughes

The Commons, the new novel from B.C.’s Matthew Hughes, is introduced by editor Robert J. Sawyer as a “fixup”: a novel knitted together out of a series of previously published short stories. In this case, the newly created novel follows the adventures of Guth Bandar in the “noösphere.”

The noösphere (also known as the Commons) is a place that contains “the distillation of all human experience … the composite memory of the species.” It is the collective unconscious imagined as a rather literary form of virtual reality, one inhabited by archetypes (or “idiomats”) acting out the basic building blocks of our shared human psychodrama. The noösphere is entered by highly trained noönauts like Bandar through a process of meditation, with special chants protecting them from being absorbed into its mental fabric. Much like the Matrix, the noösphere is a dangerous place, where virtual injury can lead to physical consequences, even death, in the real world.

That’s the basic premise, and it’s a good one. The novel moves quickly, with Bandar channel-surfing in and out of various mythic events and situations via musically activated doorways, or “nodes.” Depending on his location within the well-mapped geography of the noösphere, the book’s genre slips from bawdy comedy to historical costume drama, SF, fantasy, Western, and mash-ups of everything in between. But then the noösphere starts becoming unstable, and the collective unconscious shows signs of developing consciousness in the face of a dire threat from the great beyond.

The frantic pace and episodic structure make reading The Commons feel a bit like watching someone play a video game, with Bandar having to complete increasingly difficult levels as he gains experience points on his way to the final showdown.But it all makes for a rollicking fun ride.