When To Sleep in a Sea of Stars debuted back in the Fall of 2020, it represented a new era for author Christopher Paolini. Known for presenting grandiose tales of dragons and magic, TSIASOS allowed Paolini to further perfect the skills he cut his teeth on in The Inheritance Cycle. That same epic, grand storytelling that was present in The Inheritance Cycle is still here, but it feels more refined. Now, Paolini returns to the world of TSIASOS (dubbed “The Fractalverse”) with a smaller and more intimate tale in “Fractal Noise.”
Set ten years before TSIASOS, the novel focuses on xenobiologist Alex Crichton. Crichton has just lost his wife, and is trying to find something to care for in a world that doesn’t care back. He finds himself amongst the crew of the Adamura, orbiting the planet Talos VII on an expedition. Without warning, the crew discovers a massive hole in the middle of the planet, one that looks made…and said hole proceeds to let out an ominous thud from beneath the planet’s surface.
Crichton and a small team from the ship’s crew find themselves on the surface heading to investigate the mysterious hole. Along the way, they must contend with the unfamiliar terrain, as well as rising tensions amongst themselves.
What really works about Fractal Noise is that Paolini completely changes his style here. Whereas TSIASOS is a grand sci-fi adventure, on par with stories such as Dune, Star Wars, and Firefly, Fractal Noise opts for something different. The biggest influences here are space survival thrillers such as The Thing or Pitch Black, mixed with gut wrenching drama found in sci-fi films like Arrival and Annihilation. Paolini manages to balance both the small and large moments so perfectly in Fractal Noise.
The characters are also genuinely fascinating to listen to in terms of development. Rather than the ragtag crew of charming rogues from the Wallfish, there’s something almost…. sinister to the Adamura. You get the sense that everyone’s involved here for their own selfish purposes, rather than the sense of adventure. To me, this adds to the almost hopeless feeling that Alex Crichton is experiencing.
Speaking of, Crichton makes for a fascinating contrast to Kira Navarez from TSIASOS. While Navarez was scared of her new destiny, she eventually embraced it. Here, Crichton is firmly stuck in what was, instead of moving on. The loss of his wife has affected him deeply, so much so that he can’t find much meaning in the world anymore. Paolini manages to make him empathetic to the reader, allowing us to feel the pain and anguish that Crichton feels. The novel flashes back to layer in all the moments that Crichton spent with his wife. They are genuinely moving, and paint an interesting picture of what their relationship was like before tragedy struck.
Finally, I just need to say (and you’ll know what I mean when you read it): Pushkin is just deplorable, and I mean that in the best way possible. Just an absolute asshole in all the best ways. Paolini makes him so…snake like. Seeing his story progress, as well as the other members of the expedition, is a fascinating descent into madness.
I will admit the story is not without faults. I would have liked to have seen a bit more backstory with the expedition crew. There are debates and conversations that they have regarding religion and philosophy, but I would have liked a bit more explanation. Their pasts, more of their backstories, etc. But that’s really the only major complaint in what’s otherwise another strong entry in the Fractalverse. While I personally prefer To Sleep in a Sea of Stars, Fractal Noise does an impressive job at scaling everything back. Paolini confidently shows he can tell smaller, more intimate stories within this larger universe.
And given we still have a print edition of his online Fractalverse story, as well as a long-awaited return to a certain land filled with dragons, it’s looking like Christopher Paolini’s about to have a VERY strong year ahead.
Fractal Noise by Christopher Paolini goes on sale May 16th, 2023, but is available for preorder now at your local independent bookstore or wherever fine books are sold.