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Necessity
by Jo Walton
TOR Books; $25.99; 334 pp
Published: July 2016

The conclusion to The Just City (click here for review)and The Philosopher Kings (click here for review) could not be any more satisfying. This novel is structured as the other two were; as a collection of journal entries from various characters: Apollo, Crocus (one of the sentient robot Workers), Jason and Hilfa among others.

It is about 40 years after the Last Debate - and so before the island volcano of the Just City blows up (Kallisti, or Santorini as it is known now) the god Zeus is convinced by the god Apollo to remove everyone to another planet which is named Plato.

So the structure, the philosophy, the thinking that was the heart of the experiment begun by Athene (Athena) and Apollo (and subsequently spread to several islands in the Bronze Age) Aegean gets transplanted to a slightly cooler planet. And of course, they meet aliens. (There are none native to this planet). So now…we have two alien societies intermingling with the transplanted Greeks, with their philosophies and gods, as well as their space ships thrown into the mix.

And it’s wonderful. It just is (as are the other two novels in the series). The novel begins with Pytheas finally succumbing to human death—which immediately releases him to be what he really is: the god Apollo. So there’s a funeral/wake. Which Apollo attends - of course.

The driving issue in this novel is that the goddess Athene has gone missing and it is discovered - through a series of notes she left with various folk - that she has gone outside of time into Chaos to see exactly what it is. Athene is all about learning and this was something none of the gods (other than Zeus) knew much about. And though it would anger Zeus (who would know about Athene’s search---if he should wonder and set his mind to it), Apollo and Hermes work hard to find Athene to avoid the wrath of Zeus and to bring her back from Chaos.

We meet several of the characters from the previous books, and a new one: the Saeli, Hilfa. (The Saeli are the alien race that has joined up with the humans willing to live by Plato’s Republic. The other race, the Amaranthi are more into commercial pursuits). Walton focuses on Hilfa who will turn out to be a hero - he was “discovered” or actually created by Athene to save his people. (I won’t say how or why, but it’s so well-thought-out).  Jathery, a Saeli trickster god - who for a while is confused with Hermes - is also involved in finding Athene. But who and what Jathery is finally gets revealed.

And a very dear character returns to be the gadfly he has been immortalized as, to ask questions about this phase of the experiment begun in The Just City.  Necessity is what spurs the actions of all here. “We’re free within Fate and Necessity,” says Apollo. “The more we tangle ourselves up with them - the less free we are to act. Our past actions bind our future selves, and all we gods do is remembered in art. The more we are able to change and grow and pursue excellence, the more we need to leave ourselves open to that.”

The best of science fiction for me - what is the most long-lasting about great SF - is what it makes you ponder. And Necessity - as well as the previous two books - is as thoughtful and fulfilling as any SF I have read in years. The nature of true freedom, the divine spark that which makes us sentient and able to grow and be excellent, it’s all here. As well as love and adventure and ….as Apollo says at the very end: “This third and final volume ends with hope, always the last thing to come out of any box.”  And there you have it. ~~ Sue Martin

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