There he makes a discovery.
One that could unlock the secret of immortality.
The story follows the life of Mallory Ringess, a trainee enrolled at "the Academy" that was founded by a pseudo-monastic order of truth-seekers called 'the Order of Mystic Mathematicians and Other Seekers of the Ineffable Flame' hoping to become a pilot. Using advanced mathematics the pilots are able to navigate within the manifold, a kind of hyperspace that links all parts of the universe, but whose dangers can lead the untrained or the unwary to get lost in the tangled skeins of space-time. They are men and women who live for the precarious dangers of the manifold and who search, quixote-like, for the proof of the elusive Continuum Hypothesis which would allow a pilot to fall from any point in the universe to any other without the complicated mathematical mappings normally required to traverse hyperspace.
This is epic, "big idea" science fiction at its best. Clarke Award for Best Science Fiction Novel (1990) Nominee: Locus Award for Best First Novel (1989)
Let me first say; his book had many things going for it that I could love. Mathematics is a sort of magic, mathematicians use their abilities to calculate and navigate through a manifold (subtle enough poke at string theory possibly) which allows them to explore the universe at amazing scales. Now without revealing too much of the plot about a chapter later there is a sort of undercover operation going on with the main group of characters.
However maybe there is a reason other than pure admiration that made me compare 'Neverness' to my otherwise all-favourite epic 'Dune': the philosophical depth of the book, the incredible sensitivity with which the author puts meaning behind every word, character, and creation of his, making it clear that each sentence is the result of a thousand observations of the world around and inside us; and not just some bleak filling to an unimaginative plot as is the case with most of the gibberish out there that likes to call itself science fiction. Nevertheless, I strongly recommend 'Neverness' to all those deep philosophical natures out there, this book will remind you why science fiction is your favourite genre; it is so for a reason.
I picked this up because I read several comparisons to Wolfe's The Book of the New Sun, and there are similarities - dense, evocative prose; rich, textured, and unique world-building; a taste for the striking strange - both in well-written imagery and concepts; a young, arrogant, first-person narrator who is not a philosopher but is given to philosophical pondering; a combination of humanity's past with humanity's far-flung future. In Neverness, the things the narrator Mallory Ringess deals with -- for example: being a mathematician-pilot who shortcuts through space-time by solving intricate, visualized mathematical calculation-sculptures made while in mental union with his spacecraft's computer; facing a space entity that uses networked moon-size brain-nodes to think its unapproachable thoughts -- are complicated enough that New Sun trickiness would have made it ridiculously obscure.
The plot is an epic mess, the world-building never gets explained (the author just throws planet names and made-up words at us like we're supposed to know what he's talking about), and the writing style, while, admittedly, quite beautiful, is not without faults either. This, unfortunately, goes for most of the characters, and if the men have at least some semblance of personality (Bardo and Soli in particular), then the women are just there to be continuously sexualized and possibly murdered. Why is stealing his DNA to give birth to Mallory (a plot twist anyone with eyes would have seen coming a mile away btw) such a great crime? Why do Mallory and Soli hate each other? Hate isn't always rational and easily explained, particularly between family members, and the author does point out how thin the line between love and hate can be, but in the long run, whatever facets Soli and Mallory's conflict might have, they're all lost in the grand mess of things. The romance in the book is simply laughable (Bardo/Justine) and downright creepy when it comes to Mallory/Katharine.
Although probably intended as a single volume, it starts the reader on a four book journey.