Translators: Shaun Whiteside, Jamie Searle, Samuel Willcocks
Random House; 11/5/2013
Hardcover, 960 pages
Frank Schätzing’s The Swarm was an international science-fiction blockbuster, winner of the Köln Literatur Prize, the Corine Prize, and the German Science Fiction Prize. Limit is his most ambitious work to-date—a multilayered thriller that balances astonishing scientific, historical, and technical detail. Against this backdrop, Schätzing convincingly realizes a possible near future when humankind’s ingenuity may become the greatest risk to its continued existence.
In 2025, entrepreneur Julian Orley opens the first-ever hotel on the moon. But Orley Enterprises deals in more than space tourism—it also operates the world’s only space elevator, which in addition to allowing the very wealthy to play tennis on the lunar surface connects Earth with the moon and enables the transportation of helium-3, the fuel of the future, back to the planet. Julian has invited twenty-one of the world’s richest and most powerful individuals to sample his brand-new lunar accommodation, hoping to secure the finances for a second elevator.
On Earth, meanwhile, cybercop Owen Jericho is sent to Shanghai to find a young female hacker known as Yoyo, who’s been on the run since acquiring access to information that someone seems quite determined to keep quiet. As Jericho closes in on the girl and the conspiracy swirling around her, he finds mounting evidence that connects her to Julian Orley as well as to the entrepreneur’s many competitors and enemies. Soon, the detective realizes that the lunar junket to Orley’s hotel is in real and immediate danger.
Limit by Frank Schatzing focuses on three different stories set in 2025 in one massive book.
The first story is a science fiction space opera set on the moon. Orley Enterprises opens up the first resort and hotel, the Gaia, on the moon. Wealthy guests arrive by a space elevator for a vacation compliments of owner Julian Orley, who hopes his guests will be impressed enough to invest in his company and the expansion of a second space elevator. In addition to the luxurious accommodations, the space elevator transports Helium-3, a newly discovered source of energy that will end the use of fossil fuels, back to Earth. With this first space elevator owned by an American, the Chinese are scrambling to establish their own base on the moon as well as an elevator.
"And in fact for half the show she’d been staring at the display on her pocket computer, correcting marketing plans, and had missed the explanation of the principle. At first sight it would look as if the slabs that formed the cabin sterns were sending out bright red beams, but in fact it was the other way round. The undersides of the plates were covered with photovoltaic cells, and the beams were emitted by huge lasers inside the terminal. The energy produced by the impact set the propulsion system in motion, six pairs of interconnected wheels per cabin, with the belt stretched between them. When the wheels on one side were set in motion, those on the other side joined in automatically in the opposite direction, and the lift climbed up the belt. “It gets faster and faster,” Julian explained." (Location 2221-2227)
There are plenty of references to other science fiction that most people are going to catch. For example I got a chuckle out of this: "The Picard had a different design from the Kirk, which was closer to classical restaurant style." Location 2703-2703
The second story is a detective story set in China. A young woman, Yoyo, is a member of a group of internet dissidents who call themselves Guardians. This faction has become a "nuisance to the Party with their demands for democracy.” Yoyo has seemingly disappeared without any indication where she went. Cyber P. I., Owen Jericho, has been hired to find Yoyo by her father. He doesn't want to go to the police and bring her to their attention - again. It seems that Jericho is not the only person looking for Yoyo and the other man on her trail doesn't mean her well at all.
“Yes and no. Some of her files suggest we’re dealing with a member of a group of internet dissidents who call themselves Guardians. A faction who are becoming a real nuisance to the Party with their demands for democracy.”
“You mean that Yoyo didn’t intentionally seek us out?”
“We can probably rule that out. Pure coincidence. We scanned her hard drives faster than she could switch them off, which suggests the attack surprised her. We didn’t manage to destroy her computer though. She must have a highly efficient security system, and unfortunately that doesn’t bode well. We’re now convinced that fragments—at least—of our transfer data are now in Yuyun—er, Yoyo’s computer.” Location 4483-4490
The third story is about the elimination of the oil industry and a assassination attempt made on a CEO of a dying oil company. “I was always vehemently opposed to war, and still am today. You just have to understand what a jam the United States was in. Asia’s hunger for raw materials, Russia’s gamble on resources, our disappointing performance in the Middle East, one great big disaster. Then 2015, the uprising in Saudi Arabia. The stars and stripes burning in the streets of Riyadh, the whole folklore of the Islamist seizure of power, except that we couldn’t just throw those guys out because China had lent them money and arms. An official military intervention in Saudi Arabia would have amounted to a declaration of war on Beijing. You know yourself how things look down there now. Nobody might be interested in it today, but in those days it would have been reckless to depend entirely on Arab oil. We had to take alternatives into consideration. One of those lay in the sea, the other in the exploitation of oil sand and shale, the third in the resources of Alaska.” (Location 1948-1956)
I love to find quotes in everything I read and there were some moments of great insight and/or truths buried in Limit:
Some people can barely afford the hooch that keeps them writing, but if you happen to stumble upon something of theirs online and download it, you’re strangely moved by how humanity and unmarketability seem to come together, and it makes you realize that great emotions always originate in the small, the intimate, the desperate. Location 3485-3487
It’s just that women are more gifted at lying. We’ve perfected the repertoire of dissimulation, that’s why we can see the truth gleaming through as if through fine silk, when you lie. Location 17136
Limit is translated from the German by Shaun Whiteside, Jamie Searle, and Samuel Willcocks.
First you need to note that this is a massive book. In an unwieldy novel of this size it is extremely helpful that a cast of characters is included just in case you get confused as the stories flip back and forth. The hardcover edition claims 960 pages. My review copy for the kindle was larger. While I sometimes enjoy large, weighty books with a complicated, in-depth plot, I must admit that I grew weary of Limit after the first 700 pages or so. There is just so much superfluous information presented along with the plot. It's also difficult to apprise how the translation compares to the original when considering dialogue, smooth transitions, phrasing, etc..
I loved Swarm and was hoping for another novel by Schatzing I would love just as much, but, alas, Limit just isn't it. While I basically enjoyed the first two storylines listed above I didn't care as much for the third much more politicized plot. And, even though I enjoyed the two stories, in some ways I wish they had been presented as two separate books set in the same time. I can't even believe I'm writing this, but, yes, in this case a series might have been a good choice. I really think I would have enjoyed my overall experience reading this novel if I didn't have to jump back and forth between stories. Hey, even breaking it into sections where one story is told all together up to a crucial point might have worked. So, I enjoyed Limit but...
Limit is highly recommended for those who enjoy science fiction as long as you realize it is a ponderous book that requires a real time commitment (think vacation/snow days).
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Random House via Edelweiss for review purposes.