This society lives in freedom from almost all disease, with a usual lifespan of a couple hundred years before the body rejects its stabilizers and spontaneously breaks down. Although it is possible to live millenia, only the first two aristos appear to have avoided the breakdown. It is a structured society, conditioned through the educational system to respect authority. This is accomplished through the discoveries of Captain Yuan, the first aristos, who observed that the mind and the emotions are affected by images. To this end he developed a set of stances (the Posture of Formal Regard, for instance), various hand gestures (most notably the Mudras of Approval, Teaching, and Domination), and a system of ideographs whose visible forms affected the mind and emotions of the reader. The population is relatively stagnant, with only a few children permitted, so they are generally raised by multiple (more than two) parents. Since love is enlightened in these modern times, lovers of the same gender is unextraordinary, and some men even opt to become pregnant through implantation.
The foundation of the modern society is free use of knowledge by all and when an older ariste (female form of aristos) discovers that the repository of that knowledge (the original Moon) is being tampered with, against all possibility, she warns her neighbor, Gabriel. Shortly afterwards the ariste Cressida is killed in a mataglap “accident”, which Gabriel presumes to have been caused by the aristos Saigo whom Cressida suspected of falsifying data. Gabriel builds an alternate communication system and storage unit and sets out for Saigo’s domaine to determine what he is hiding that requires alteration of star-system survey data.
Gabriel discovers an experiment in progress—an experiment where mankind is replicated in its Renaissance state, complete with false history, sickness, and paltry standards of living. The experiment is headed by Captain Yuan, the first Aristos, who legend says left mankind to find the center of the galaxy. In reality he left because he abhorred the security that mankind had created, which did not foster uniqueness or creativity. Gabriel discovers this only in captivity where he is brainwashed to serve Captain Yuan’s purposes instead of fulfilling his desire of liberating the people from their miserable state and giving them the peace, security, and freedom from disease that the rest of mankind enjoys. Fortunately, a rogue daimon of his saves the day by hacking Captain Yuan’s computers while Gabriel isn’t paying attention and the Saigo and the beautiful ariste Zhenling (who was Gabriel’s virtual lover to get information of his plans) are brought to justice. Captain Yuan eludes capture and Gabriel ends the narrative by leaving in search of him.
Aristoi fails to rise above mediocrity. Although the diamones are an interesting idea, as is the technique of the mental conversations with (and between) the diamones written in parallel with the main narrative, few new ideas present themselves. The plot, while interesting enough to be read in one sitting, progresses in a straight line with no real turns and the appearance of Captain Yuan is unsurprising as the repeated assertions of the unknown status of his trip to the center of the galaxy beg for his introduction. The timeline is a little dubious, as Saigo’s publication suggesting that a star in his domaine is unstable is rather recent, while Captain Yuan’s disappearance appears to have taken place many years ago. The fact that only the first two aristoi have lived for millienia while everyone else spontaneously dies after a few centuries suggests that Captain Yuan needed to live a long time for the plot and that another aristos needed to have survived to make it remotely plausible.
The portrayal of society appears to be an implementation of the usual science fiction ideals—freedom from disease and troublesome conservative morals through information and human development—with no depth given beyond these assertions. Far from being a paragon of humanity, the aristoi appear to lead a life of leisure, occasionally tending to the task of administration, but generally parading at parties in the style of Louis XIV, satiating their lust, and occasionally dashing off gems of art in their spare time. Gabriel spends approximately half of the book seduced in virtual trysts with Zhenling, doing the same (except in reality) with his (female) lover Clancy, or with visits to his longstanding (male) love, Marcus, who is having their child. The female relationships, especially that with Zhenling, appear to be based mostly on lust and somehow Clancy, against all historical evidence suggesting that she might become jealous of Marcus or the virtual Zhenling, is just fine with Gabriel having multiple lovers. And while every trend has been that humans make mistakes, aristoi apparently never make mistakes with nanotech, and can safely be gatekeepers of that dangerous tool.
Williams has created a novel that simply lacks believability. The society is thoughtlessly stolen from various Chinese influences and modern moral ideas with little attempt at portraying cultural differences or individual failure. The plot is predictable and unoriginal at the macro level (although the idea of aristoi and the use of the schizophrenic diamones that “once only saints or lunatics knew” is orginal, at least to me). The aristoi, or at least Aristos Gabriel, fail to demonstrate laudable character. In short, Aristoi sits comfortably among the rest of the unoriginal consumable science fiction.
Written in a very casual style. Too much unnecessary sex. Unbelievable attitudes. Unconvincing aristoi. Simple plot. However, since I read the book in practically one setting, it does have some story-telling merit.
- The use of schizophrenic daimones as servants, advisors, and friends.
- Mataglap: nanotech that continues “eating” and reproducing without stop. Not terribly realistic, since nothing, not even viruses as that successful, but interesting.
- Hollowing out of asteroids and the moon as data storage centers
- Nano-tech “software”: libraries of battleships, etc. ready to be created with just a command to execute.
- The idea that we are affected by what we see—Postures, Mudras, characters. Probably not true to the extent Williams describes (being unnerved by an unfamiliar Mudra of Domination, for example), but at least this corresponds somewhat to reality.
- A Workshop that produces real handmade goods instead of
||Fairly new (80 years) aristos. Prefers artistic
things; is an architect. Prefers hands off, democratic
rule. Has a long-standing (male) love affair with Marcus, who is
carrying their child and for whom he built a beautiful house. Doesn’t usually have relationships lasting over a month or so with
women, although Clancy looks like it might be more lasting. Is not
||A doctor by trade. Is
smart, but not quite ariste
material. During the trip, her association with an aristos (Gabriel) causes her to be
able to combine her knowledge and skills in a way that suggests she will
eventually become an ariste. Designs a new nanotech container. Is a lover of Gabriel, although
she is not described as having much intensity. Does not object to
Gabriel’s other lovers.
of a neighboring domaine. Scientifically oriented; lived on
a small asteroid. Copied Saigo’s data and then discovered that the
main data had been altered. Alerts Gabriel shortly before she is
killed in a mataglap accident.
||Young, beautiful ariste. Seduces Gabriel (who
was doing the same to her) to maintain information about him. Is
helping Captain Yuan because she, too, believes that humanity is
||The first aristos. Developed Postures,
Mudras, characters. Is practically a superhuman because he created
the system that the others live in and are controlled by. Built
backdoors into the main information systems. Believes that
humanity has stagnated in security so he secretly develops an alternate
humanity which is left to evolve by itself from a Renaissance society,
under the guise of leaving to explore the center of the galaxy. Is
immune to Gabriel’s attacks and it is suggested that Gabriel must become
like him in order to defeat him.
||(Male) lover of Gabriel. Is destroyed when Gabriel’s ship is destroyed.
of a sparsely populated domaine. Published a study determining
that a star was unstable and therefore unsuitable for colonization.
|Spring Plum, Welcome Rain,