Doctor Silas Coade is the ship’s physician on sailing ship Demeter in the 1800s, on a voyage of exploration to a previously unreachable inlet. They crash on the coast of Norway, and find an earlier ship, Europa, already wrecked there, leaving a dire warning behind.
Doctor Silas Coade is the ship’s physician on the steamship Demeter in the later 1800s, seeking the same previously unreachable inlet, with the same Edifice the previous voyage found – in a different part of the world. And Coade is the only one who, dimly, has memories of this happening before, with the same disastrous end.
Coade is the physician on an airship, also Demeter, in the 1900s, seeking a hole in the ice in Antarctica, which becomes a hole in the Earth, where a mysterious Edifice is reported to exist. Once again, they find a wrecked ship, Europa, that went before them, with the same dire warning and disastrous end. And each time, Silas has remembered more about preceding episodes, while relationships evolve among the same recurring members of the ship’s crew and the expeditionary party.
The Russian Topolsky is the funder and leader of the expeditionary party. He’s motivated by money and fame, and he’s not overly honest. Raymond Dupin is a young, brilliant, but strangely very stressed mathematician. He says “the voices” are whispering to him to keep working on the “eversion” problem; that it is critical and he must solve it, even when Coade is rather desperate to get the young man to rest before he burns himself out. Coronel Ramos is Topolsky’s paid security, and a Mexican. He and Coade have a friendly relationship that gradually becomes real friendship. Captain Van Vught is the Dutch captain of Demeter. Ada Cossile is the linguist in Topolsky’s party.
Each of these people becomes a more fleshed-out character over the course of each iteration. Ada Cossile is both an annoyance and a distraction to Coade, challenging the details and words of the “fantastic adventure” narrative he’s writing, and reading for the crew at the captain’s dinner table. She even offers unasked etymological histories of medical terms, when he has to do an emergency trephination on Coronal Ramos. She’s very frustrating, and very attractive to him. She clearly has an ulterior motive, but what is it?
The first hint comes on that first iteration, when just before the disaster that will kill everyone, Silas is shot in the gut, mortally wounded. As he is dying, Ada Cossile express disappointment in him, urging him to show more courage, grasp the true reality, so that there’s a chance to end this wandering through his mind and solve the real problem.
What real problem?
In the next two iterations, it becomes clear Ramos is starting to realize they’re experiencing something other than reality. It’s bewildering and alarming, the way Dupin is compelled to keep working on his “eversion” mathematical problem, even as he grows more exhausted and feverish. And what voices is he talking about?
Eventually, we get a glimpse of the reality Ada Cossile keeps encouraging him to reach for – but at first only briefly. And Silas grasps a lot of it, but he doesn’t, can’t, believe what she tells him about who he really is. And there’s a reference I so much want to make here, and it would either be annoyingly irrelevant, or a spoiler. So, no. But the latest simulation is where Silas starts to truly engage with the dangerous problem that will kill all of them if he can’t find the right way to tackle it – a way that doesn’t involve sailing ships, steamships, or airships, but the real Demeter and the real Europa, and untangling the lies Topolsky has told.
I can tell from other reviews that a lot of people have found this book annoying. I’m in the “but this is so much fun!” category.
We get deeper and deeper in to Silas Coade’s mind, untangling the puzzle, and trying to figure out what Ada Cossile is really doing, and is she Silas’s enemy or his ally? We get to know Coronel Ramos ever better, and learn what exactly is driving Dupin in such a seemingly self-destructive direction.
I cared about these characters, including lesser ones I haven’t mentioned, and I loved the story. Always allowing this book seems to be of the marmite variety, absolutely give it a try.