This review was first published by Booklist on April 15, 2023.
Fleeing from personal tragedy, xenobiologist Alex Crichton is assigned to a corporate exploration ship scouting a new star system for potentially habitable planets when the team discovers an anomaly: a gigantic, perfectly circular hole in a planet that emits a regular signal encoding the Mandelbrot set. Despite his misgivings, and spurred by the memory of who he lost, Alex volunteers to be on the landing crew sent down to explore the planet’s surface. What follows is a torturous journey of mounting tension, danger, and uncertainty. It’s a pressure cooker that gradually wears away at the characters’ psyches. Things get dark. This is a deep character portrait, enhanced by the mystery and disconcerting nature of the setting. Layered on top is a meditation on grief and faith. It’s a heady mix of ingredients. The central mystery is never solved, and the ending is left unresolved, but it finishes with a welcome note of hope. Fractal Noise is very different in length and tone from its predecessor (To Sleep in a Sea of Stars, 2020), and it shows Paolini’s range as a storyteller.
HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Since leaving his YA fantasy series behind, Paolini’s SF star has shone more brightly with every new release.