S. Andrew Swann
Heretics Cover



I like action. I like suspense. I like drama. And increasingly, I like S. Andrew Swann. He knows how to write all of these into his plot, and he does it deftly, smoothly, and never lets the writing get in the way of the story.

Heretics is the second book of Swann's Apotheosis trilogy (apotheosis means "the exultation of a subject to divine level"). While facing the risk of succumbing to "middle book syndrome," Swann manages to keep the action on the edge, heighten the danger, and pull out an ending that, while appropriately leaving the situation more grave than at the beginning and tee-ing off the starting point for book three (the appropriately named Messiah), still follows a story arc that makes the read a satisfactory experience.

Nevertheless, Heretics still is a middle book, and at the end, its main function is to move the plot to the dénouement, and it just barely stays away from middle book syndrome. We are introduced to a few new characters, learn more about our antagonist Adam, and watch the known universe crumble before his claim as the one true god. Adam, the nanobot entity possessed of a more than slightly insane artificial intelligence, has assumed divine status. He begins each planetary invasion with a perfunctory demand of its inhabitants that they worship him by joining in his restructuring of the universe on a molecular level. "Live forever," he promises, "or be destroyed." Using technological powers that mankind universally considers "heretical," he swoops through the universe remaking worlds in his own image, an image that is composed of entirely nanobots and networked artificial intelligence. It is Terminator, Battlestar Galactica, and Michael Crichton's Prey all in one, and on a scale spanning many galaxies. It is horrifying, a destruction by our own creation, and Swann pulls no punches.

Adam never develops far beyond the villain and with good reason. He's just the bad guy, and we readily accept that he is arrogant, evil, and non-human. The people we care about--our heroes--are who we begin to see grow and develop in the furnace of their fight for survival. In Heretics, Swann shows his characters begin to step out of themselves, grow, and connect with each other. That said, it is important to note, that Swann writes with more focus on action and plot than on internal character development. Even as the characters grow, brood, agonize, and struggle, the struggle is more against the larger than life threat to humanity, the caricatured Adam, not the inner man's transcendence of himself. Rather, their transcendence emerges as self sacrifice for the greater good of human survival, not unlike Joseph Cambell's "Hero of a Thousand Faces." We don't get too close to them--just close enough to care, to see what we expect of a hero, and then it's back to the action. And you know what? It works great. It's space opera, and it's exactly what I expected when I picked up the novel.

With a villain everyone can hate and fear, heroes that everyone can empathize with, and a dire situation that pits both heroes and villains in a "Hail Mary" fight to the death, I enjoyed flipping the pages of Swann's novel. I finished the last page of Heretics, set it down, and immediately picked up Messiah (book three, which came out just this year) and started reading. I had no desire to put off the conclusion to the Apotheosis, and I look forward to seeing the finish of the story.

A cautionary comment on content: One scene in the book bothered me. At one point, the mutant tiger begins a relationship with one of the humans (also mutated, but not quite like him) characters. While there is only brief description, there is foreplay and reference to a sexual relationship. This is science-fiction, and perhaps interspecies romance has a place there, but it was the sexual description that was a bridge too far for me. I just didn't buy the interspecies love affair thing. Fortunately, the scene is brief, short, and not reoccurring.