Thursday, August 16, 2018

Dragon Finalist for Best SF Novel: It Takes Death to Reach a Star

The book being reviewed here is:

If you have AdBlock, or something else that eats picture links,  you can go here:

Preliminaries. I obtained this book upon request from one of the authors, in exchange for a fair review.
I requested this book because it is a finalist for the 2018 Dragon Award, in the 'Best Science Fiction Novel"  category. I started working on this series on August 8, and plan to spend AT LEAST another ten days on it (more, if I can get the books).

For the title of my Amazon review of the book, I took a passage from Psalm 139:
If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.
And a bit more context for that verse says a bit more about the context of the novel:
Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the dawn,
If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea,
Even there Your hand will lead me,
And Your right hand will lay hold of me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me,
And the light around me will be night,”
Even the darkness is not dark to You,
And the night is as bright as the day.
Darkness and light are alike to You. (Psalm 139:7-12, NASB)
Disclaimer. Now, USUALLY, I try to make my Amazon review tiny, and expand here in the blog. Well, I TRIED, with some success, in doing that, but there was really so much stuff that needed to go on Amazon, that it turned out longer than I intended. Therefore, the first part of this blog is an expanded bit of the Amazon review; The second part of this blog is a CONDENSED version of the Amazon review; and the THIRD part of this blog isn't IN the Amazon review. So, I want you to do two things:
1. Read BOTH this blog post, AND the Amazon review (the link is up above), and
2. Vote 'helpful' on the Amazon review.

 Part 1: Expanded from Amazon. The book is set five hundred years in the future, after World War III and the New Black Plague killed almost every man, woman, and child on Earth. Those few who survive are huddled in the bizarre architecture of Etyom, north of the Arctic Circle in what once was Siberia, but now is nothing. As far as any of the residents know, there are no other humans alive anywhere.

Humans are divided in three ways: class, based on genetics; location  of residence, either at the top of buildings five miles tall, or in whatever shelter they can cobble together from the ruined city at the base; or role defining belief systems.

At the top of the class structure are the Graciles, the very best form of human that can be designed. Between 7 & 8 feet tall, they are uniformly perfect in features and health. Any imperfections are ruthlessly destroyed before birth, or through a process called Axiotimos Thanatos, commonly referred to as being Ax'd, if discovered later. They rule the entire city. The next class below that are called Robusts, consisting of humans without any genetic manipulations, who make their living the best way they can in the frigid temperature. At the bottom of the heap are the Rippers, who have been cast out from Robust society, and live as feral humans. They produce nothing, existing by scavenging through garbage and attacking any Robusts or Graciles who wander away from their enclaves. They are cannibalistic.

Residential divisions mirror the class distinctions, in that the Graciles live, literally, at the top of the city. Great towers spread out at the five mile level, forming structures aptly named 'lilypads.' These are kept in place both by gigantic support towers, and by enormous bags of helium gas, which help to stabilize them.  The Robusts live in one of eight enclaves at the bottom of the towers, separated from each other by walls which are of some value defensively, but do nothing to ameliorate the debilitating weather conditions. Outside these enclave, in open areas with no infrastructure called 'the Vapid' live the roving bands of Rippers. Some commerce goes on between enclaves, but a group traveling without extensive protection will be attacked by Rippers, killed, and eaten.

The final division between people are their defining belief systems. All of the Graciles begin and end with a materialistic, fatalistic view of existence, and regard themselves as being the highest form of existence possible. The Robusts are divided into two, possibly more, groups, with their roots in either Christianity, in the case of the Logosians, who worship Yeos, or the Musuls, derived from Islam, and regarding Ilah as their supreme being. The Logosians are heavily persecuted by the majority Musuls, and find no favor with the Graciles, either.

Part 2: CONDENSED from the Amazon review. Mila is a Robust Logosian orphan who makes her living as a bouncer and courier. Demitri is an alienated Gracile scientist. Through alternating chapters, they tell the story.

Mila just wants to survive, learn to be a better fighter, and live out the Logosian principles in her life. She's doing pretty good with parts 2 & 3 of that, but she is just BARELY surviving.

Demitri is not only of the elite class, he is at the very TOP of the elite class; the Leader is higher, but no one else is. He has, literally, everything that money can buy, and some things that NO amount of money can buy, due to their rarity, such as vinyl records and bound books. And he has to cut his wrist in the morning so he can feel something. He is empty, and isolated, and the only person who talks to him is the voice in his head, which tells him he is a loser and a coward, constantly. He has to resort to illicit drug use to silence the voice. It's been with him as long as he can remember; he gave it the name Vedmak.

Mila just wants to make the rent; Demitri believes the Leader will use his work to destroy the world.

Part 3: Not included in the Amazon review. I expanded on the quote from Psalm 139 for the blog post, ONLY because they won't let you use that many words for an Amazon review title. Actually, I could have used a different Psalm, one that goes like this:

 By the rivers of Babylon,
There we sat down and wept,
When we remembered Zion.
Upon the willows in the midst of it
We hung our harps.
For there our captors demanded of us songs,
And our tormentors mirth, saying,
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion.”
How can we sing the Lord’s song
In a foreign land? (Psalms 137:1-4, NASB)
If the concept of God being taken seriously in a work of science fiction is anathema to you, then you won't like this book. That's because the ENTIRE BOOK is about living a life without meaning, and desperately seeking something that is the reason for it all; or, if not a reason, then something that at least gives life purpose.  The primary Bad Guy in the piece has more power and control than everybody else combined, and it's still not enough. He is driven to find MORE, and quite literally would expend everyone else in pursuit of his goal. Sitting at approximately at the other end of the scale is a young man who just wants to be able to take care of his little sister. The smaller goal does not make HIM smaller; instead, he is large enough that he takes time to say thanks to people who have helped him.

With some of the books I review, I find that the story is excellent, and it's STRICTLY a story, that it carries no deeper messages. With some of the books I review, I find them nothing BUT message, and those usually get tossed, earlier, rather than later. This book is essentially demanding that we take a look at the ULTIMATE question, about Life, The Universe, And Everything, does NOT trivialize it by saying that the answer is 42, and delivers a smashing good yarn to delight the most depraved of us who thirst for MOAR EXPLODING SPACESHIPS!!! Look, you pays yer money, and you makes yer choice. That's the way this works. If this ain't yer cup of tea, okay. If it is, you'll love it.

Closing but HIGHLY significant comment!As a sort of throw-away at the very VERY end of the book,and I mean the VERY last entry, you find this:

As it happens, the author had already told me there was some good material there, so I went and looked. (That's ONE of the reasons I spent ALL DAY with this book, except for the time I spent teaching Kenneth and Alicia how to change a tire.)

This is me, not reading the book.

For one thing, there is some BEAUTIFUL art work by John Byrne, who designed the cover. We can hope we will see some of this artwork for sale at conventions or elsewhere.

But, ALAS! There is so much GREAT stuff there, and it's JUST NOT incorporated into the book!

P. S. It CAN be done, too. The author I know who has done the BEST job of incorporating a book/world wiki into an ebook is Rob Howell, and an excellent example of his art is "A Lake Most Deep." I wish a LOT more authors would follow his example. 
In the interim, check out the book, check out the website, and see ya at DragonCon, where this just might get the win!

Peace be on your household.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the fabulous review. Stu and I tried to create something real and meaningful in today's climate while telling a really cool sci fi story. We have no idea whom you are voting for in each category, but we are glad you liked it and took the time to read in order to make a decision.