Spiral Worlds (2022)
Reviewed by Sheri Hoyte for Reader Views (10/2022)
“Unanimity” is the first book in the Spiral Worlds series by Alexandra Almeida. The story presents an impeccable foundation in what promises to be an epic literary hard-sci-fi series. Sci-Fi devotees take note: this one is special.
There are so many amazing elements to the story, it’s hard to know where to begin. So let me summarize the plot first:
Sibyl started as a social media voice app that predicted the future, created by nineteen-year-old AI genius Henryk Nowak. The platform expanded when Nowak teamed up with the budding young screenwriter, Thomas Astley-Byron, to add compassion and touchy-feely elements to Sybil – a heart if you will, with the goal of saving humanity and the world from its inevitable self-destruction.
To do this, the Earth now exists as two different worlds. Up Above (the real world) where humans (also known as Travelers) live, and Down Below (the virtual world) where Underlings (AIs) provide virtual learning experiences for the travelers. The software enables the travelers to experience some of the darker aspects of life without consequence as a proactive behavioral tool of sorts. For instance, a person seeking to have an affair can experience the repercussions of adultery and learn from it before actually acting on this urge.
Nowak (Twist) and Thomas (Shadow) are elevated to “God” status but killed on the brink of success. Thirty-two years later, there’s a new God in town and this one is a Goddess named Stella. Stella needs help as the two worlds are about to collide, so she resurrects Twist, Shadow, and several other key players as digitized versions of their former selves (known as xHumans). Together, they have six days to save the worlds, but who will save them from Sibyl, now an omnipresent operating system?
Okay, I wouldn’t normally call three paragraphs a summary, but trust me, there are so many delicious layers to the story it was hard to drill it down! Now, on to my thoughts:
“Unanimity” is an amazing series opener. It’s sci-fi and so much more. Almeida weaves a provocative story using commentary on economic, social, political, and cultural issues. She celebrates diversity in her characters, and features a dynamic queer romance that is the very definition of complex passion, desire, and undying love. She merges high-level scientific prose with powerful, prophetic poetry. She has a literary style that is her very own and she is fierce in her delivery. Almeida has an extraordinary gift with words and she knows how to use them. Watching the story unfold was a treat as each sentence reflected her dedication and devotion to her craft.
The manner in which the plot unfolds provides enjoyment for all the senses. With just the right doses of backstory constructed into the flow of events, the story moves at an exciting pace that keeps the reader glued to the pages without feeling rushed, confused, or over-stimulated. Do not mistake my intention behind that statement – it is by no means a novel you can glide through whimsically, but one that readers should be prepared to commit their full attention to in order to fully appreciate the brilliance of the story.
And the characters! Alternating between their digital personas and their human forms, the characters make this story. They are all well-drawn, rich, and multi-dimensional, each one with unique personalities, relatable struggles, and engaging complexities. Especially endearing is the blurring of lines between “good” and “bad.” Nothing is black and white; Almeida’s characters accurately reflecting the duality of human personalities. A few of my favorites are Sibyl, Shadow, Storm and Stella, as mentioned below:
Sibyl, the “software” is becoming more and more “human” each day. And while she is programmed with a moral code that prevents her from harming humans, readers will wonder just how far the author plans for her advancement. Correction, Sibyl has zir own pronouns – zie and zir! I love that! Sibyl is an enchanting character and I both fear zir and am awed by zir at the same time!
Shadow and Storm’s relationship is one of my favorite parts of the story, romantic at heart that I am. Individually, Shadow’s portrayal as a tormented, oversensitive soul, and his journey down his own rabbit hole is breathtaking. Storm’s poetic activism and the way he stands up for the causes that drive him is intoxicating.
Stella, the Goddess, brings a lightheartedness to the story. Even though she has the most powerful role in the worlds, her insecurities, and her struggle to hide them persist throughout, often showing up as humor. One example is when Sibyl calls Shadow her “heart.”
“Sibyl?” He summoned the worlds’ omnipresent operating system— their universe and connected consciousness.
“Yes, my heart. I’ve missed you.”
Stella crossed her arms. “Hey. I’m the heart.”
Yes, Stella is immature, but I have a feeling she is going to grow into her own and become the proverbial force to be reckoned with.
The layout of the series is that each book spans the course of one day, leaving readers with five more novels to look forward to. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m completely captivated by this first book, “Unanimity” and can’t wait for the rest of the story to unfold in the upcoming books. This series will resonate highly with sci-fi enthusiasts that enjoy intricate, well-developed stories with remarkable characters, skillful world-building, and the draw of the ever-expanding role of science in our lives.