Probability Moon / Nancy Kress

The second audiobook I listened to on my massive road trip earlier this year was Probability Moon by Nancy Kress. Ms. Kress generally writes well within the bounds of traditional science fiction. I was worried that this would be tough to listen to because of the complexity of the story and character interaction where I would be able to read on the page and retain the flow. I did have some difficulty with that toward the beginning, but by the one-third point, I could keep the characters straight while listening.

Cover of Probability Moon

The natives on World, an extra-solar planet, experience shared reality. Basically, everyone agrees on what things are, or they experience debilitating headaches. Everything operates by consensus, and once consensus is reached it’s nearly impossible to change it. The first person to think outside the norm suffers greatly, both biologically and socially. And by socially, the penalty for not sharing reality quickly escalates to death, though in some instances people can undergo a purgatory and be re-admitted to society.

A team of human scientists lands on World to research and establish contact. Of course, evolving on Earth, humans don’t attune themselves to the consensus. They have to conceal this from the Worlders or be killed as not sharing reality.

Oh, and there’s also another alien artifact orbiting the planet. It’s a small moon sized weapon of some sort that alters probability, created by unknown aliens long before World or Earth evolved intelligent life. Multiple human factions race to acquire the weapon, or destroy it to prevent other factions from acquiring it. Destroying it may end all life on World.

Got the picture?

I think the consensus concept is a good one, but I wasn’t too impressed with the execution. The human characters were caricatures, as were much of the World natives. The plotting wasn’t very interesting either. Much revolves around machinations to hide or discover whether the fact that humans reached consensus the same way. More interesting later one was interaction between World natives who knew that humans didn’t share reality, but even then the text moved into characters relating the extended mental logic needed to reconcile the two world views.

I think I would have liked more coverage of the priestly class of World natives. They have an intimate knowledge of the basics of how their consensus building works, but don’t share one aspect of the consensus. They don’t need to kill those who don’t agree with the consensus. When criminals act against shared reality, sometimes the priests punish them by employing their disconnect to their own ends. Criminals can rejoin society by acting as spies for a specified period of time, spying being something tougher for normal natives to do because it acts against consensus. That’s just one example. The priests were the most interesting part of World.

I was intrigued, and don’t feel bad for having listened to the book. But my assessment wasn’t positive enough to merit finding the sequel.

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