Updated: Apr 28
Release date: 16 May 2023
Synopsis: Fractal Noise is the thrilling prequel to the masterful space opera To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by internationally bestselling author of Eragon, Christopher Paolini.
On the planet Talos VII, twenty-three years before the events of To Sleep in a Sea of Stars, an anomaly is detected: a vast circular pit, with dimensions so perfect that it could only have been the result of conscious design. So a small team is assembled to learn more – perhaps even who built the hole and why. Their mission will take them on a hazardous trek to the very edge of existence.
For one explorer, this is the opportunity of a lifetime. For another, a risk not worth taking. And for xenobiologist Alex Crichton, it’s a desperate attempt to find meaning in an uncaring universe. But every step they take towards that mysterious abyss is more punishing than the last. Ultimately, no one is prepared for what they will encounter.
A NOTE ON THE COVER ART: I am not reviewing this book’s cover art. I do not believe review bombing is honest and fair to other readers (or authors). That being established, I also do not believe major publishing companies, or anyone for that matter, should be using art from artists without their permission, without crediting them, and without compensating them for their time and effort, which is what AI art does. Until a database is established where artists can consent to their art being used and paid for, AI art amounts to nothing more than plagiarism and theft. That is all.
Fractal Noise is a prequel of sorts to Paolini’s 2020 SciFi debut To Sleep in a Sea of Stars and chronicles the discovery of an anomaly on a relatively uninhabited planet leading the human race to begin deeper, more coordinated exploration of space—and for intelligent lifeforms other than themselves. In the acknowledgements, Paolini admits the pacing is much slower and less action packed than TSiaSoS, though he does not mention the extent is stark in contrast. For a prequel that only covers one event, it is very detailed and slowly paced. Though there is a huge amount of tension building along the way to the destination for our travelers, the quarrels along the way among the team members seem trivial and inane. We have the typical conflicts all in one story: man vs. nature, man vs. man, and man vs. himself. All of these combined should make for a great plot in a SciFi novel, but I feel the resolutions fell short of a great climax that should have been mind-blowing. It’s not a required read before To Sleep in a Sea of Stars, which I highly recommend, but do go into it prepared for the pacing to drag. Also, don’t judge the first book by the experience you may have with this one. It is not the same.
Primarily, the issue I had with this book lies in the conflict between two of the team members exploring this desolate planet. One character who lacks faith or religion constantly ridicules and harasses the other, which causes an understandable amount of resentment on her part. The conflict not only spills over into the professional endeavors of the whole crew, but it also presents through the characterization as negative stereotyping for both involved. I didn’t enjoy this aspect. I find a lot of SciFi has this type of at least mention in it as a genre, which is why it typically does not appeal to me. I don’t enjoy reading negative commentary on any religion or lack thereof, especially those resembling the faiths of the real world.
I will admit that the psychology of the book, from the main character dealing with grief and each of the other characters dealing with some type of inner conflict, made for excellent tension building. Add to that the conflicts with the very harsh environment, unfriendly planetary inhabitants, and the increasingly difficult progress leading to the giant pit, you have a great horror-esque tale in another universe. I could only finish because I was physically propelled, along with the obsessed adventurers, to the hole in the center of the planet so see exactly what it is and what is in it.
Unfortunately, the end falls very flat. For a 290-page lead up, which could have had a shocking discovery, whether of self or some other means, there was a very anti-climactic ending that left me disappointed in the worst way. Details as to why reveal spoilers, so I won’t put any. I just feel something’s missing.
Even though this installment in the Fractalverse let me down a bit, I will definitely continue reading the series. I want to find out what happens to our heroes after the first one, and what other ways this universe can defy my imagination in ways I haven’t even dreamed.
**UPDATE FOR ALC: Jennifer Hale does it again with spectacular narration! I thoroughly enjoyed the audio version of To Sleep in a Sea of Stars, and the narration on this one is no less fantastic. Physically reading this book builds immense amounts of tension, but the audio amplifies that feeling exponentially. Highly recommend consuming this book on audio in lieu of or in combination with a physical read if possible.**
My thanks to NetGalley for the eARC and Macmillan Audio for the ALC, for which I willingly give my own, honest opinion.