I'm hazy on the details, and I've tried finding this story earlier to no avail, but as far as I can recall:

An entrepreneur(?) raises a team of mercenaries with the intent to ascend an alien artefact/tower located on a barren world. The tower proves impenetrable to external access save through the front entrance. Each room of the tower is one in of a series of progressively difficult mathematical problems. Access to the subsequent room is gained by solving the problem, whereas incorrect answers result in increasingly severe punishments, all grisly and unpredictable. It is hypothesized that surmounting the tower will lead to first-contact with an alien race existing on a plane beyond traditional intelligence, though later in the story it is intimated that the tower is a cosmic joke, a never-ending sequence of deadly rooms.

As far as I remember, the galaxy is structured in a free-form trade alliance of alien cultures derived from human stock, from which the team members are drawn:

  1. An ethereal, spiritual word of telepaths. I recall visualizing the planet as consisting of filamentous, gossamer, orange/pink glowing structures. The culture seems to have a rare yet perennial festival involving the linking of all minds, and the protagonist is visiting this world with the intent of participating when he? is recruited.
  2. An industrialized cybernetic world of both physical and mental augmentations/implants.

The team is pushed beyond all reasonable limits before

retreating, suffering the loss of several members. If I recall correctly, the story concludes with the protagonist developing an obsession over mounting the tower (despite the apparent pointlessness), returns to planet [2] to replace parts lost in the first attempt as well as gain enhanced cybernetic mathematical capacities before intending to ascend the tower solo.

It was part of a massive anthology of short science-fiction stories, another of which I would like to be able to recall. If I can't find the anthology from the answer, I'll probably post another question.

  • If you like this premise, the novel Rogue Moon by Algis Budrys also uses it (and predates Diamond Dogs by several decades).
    – Mike Scott
    May 2, 2018 at 15:41

1 Answer 1


This is Diamond Dogs by Alastair Reynolds:

Antihero Richard Swift of Diamond Dogs joins Mephistophelian Roland Childe's expedition to scale the Blood Spire on the planet Golgotha. As they climb, they must solve increasingly intricate mathematical puzzles, replacing limbs and mental processes with cybernetic constructs as the Spire changes the rules of its lethal game.

  • Thanks. I think I may have accidentally combined aspects of both Diamond Dogs and Turquoise Days when I described planet #1. Not sure, guess I'll find out after re-reading them.
    – user19087
    Jul 28, 2013 at 18:40

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