The novel “Axis”, by Robert Charles Wilson, is a sequel to “Spin”, a novel that received the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 2006.
Note: spoilers about the novel “Spin” follow!
In “Spin” the whole Earth gets embedded within an artificial membrane that slows down time so that one year on Earth is about a hundred millions years outside. The membrane also filters electromagnetic radiation hiding the stars and giving the illusion of the normal Sun movements. Spin is the name given to the membrane.
The detection of artificial objects above the poles outside the membrane is evidence of the existance of aliens behind the Spin and they are called Hypotheticals, as they don’t show up and there’s no clue about the reasons of their actions.
In an attempt to escape at least partially from the Spin the world governments start a Mars terraforming program. Human colonists create a Martian civilization but after many millennia Mars gets embedded in a Spin membrane as well. Mars government sends an ambassador to Earth to provide the mother planet the technologies they developed.
Using Martian technology, the Earth sends into space Von Neumann machines that self replicate and look for information about the Hypotheticals but after a few Earth years the signals become corrupted. From what it’s been discovered humans deduce that the aliens are actually machines of unknown origin that self-replicate in space and assimilated the ones sent by humans. The Hypotheticals embed planets that host civilizations that reached unsustainable growth to preserve them while they’re building wormholes to other planet of similar conditions.
Martian technology includes drugs that can cure many deseases but also change humans into a state known as the “Fourth Age”, a state beyond adulthood. Earth government want to keep this technology secret but the treatment starts being passed on through underground channels though the people who use it get hunt down by authorities.
After about four billion years outside the Spin the Hypotheticals shut down the Earth and Mars membranes time warping, leaving only the protection against the Sun, which has become old so it’s expanding and would kill the humans.
Wormholes are open from Earth and Mars to other planets and Earth many people who took the Fourth Age treatment run to the New World to hide from authorities.
In “Axis”, humans are colonizing the New World and many of them don’t mind the presence of the Fourths but the “Department of Genomic Security” is still trying to track them, particularly a group that used a Martian technology to engineer a very special child.
Meanwhile Lise Adams is investigating the circumstances of her father disappearance ten years earlier: among the clues in her possession there’s a picture of him with some Fourths she’s trying to find on the New World looking for their help.
The New World has been modified, if not created, by the Hypotheticals to host human life but a big problem is created when a huge amount of what looks like ash starts falling from the sky, particularly when the analysis of some samples reveals that the debris are part of some kind of machinery. Are those parts of the Hypotheticals, maybe discarded because they were too old? Are those fragments really dead? Is that “rain” in some way connected to the growth of the engineered child raised by the Fourths?
In “Spin” and “Axis” Robert Charles Wilson gives us a huge cosmic landscape where humans desperately try to see in the darkness and can grasp only a little fraction of it. Various fantastic technologies are included in the two novels yet in all of that they tell stories of persons who face unknown phenomena and try to live through them.
Despite being the sequel to “Spin”, “Axis” is in some ways quite different as it’s set not only on another world but also in a much older universe where humans must face the aftermath of the trauma of the time-warping and the helplessness in facing whatever the Hypotheticals decided for them. For someone life goes on like before but on the New World a lot of people look for a new beginning though in different ways. The events of “Spin” go on for Earth decades and Martian millennia while the events of “Axis” take place in quite a short time.
At the end of “Axis” a lot of questions are still unanswered, in fact there will be another sequel: I really hope it has sense of wonder of cosmic events and at the same time the attention to the life of individuals like “Spin” and “Axis”.