Today I'm back with another book review. Darkside Earther was my first novel by Bradley Horner but I'm pretty sure that it won't be my last. I already reviewed this novel on goodreads. As usual my review here won't be much different from the one posted there, it will just be a bit longer and more detailed. I've actually been following Bradley Horner 's review on goodreads for a while, so when I saw he published a book, I knew I had to get it. This science fiction novel was just my cup of tea. If you're into technology driven science fiction, you're probably going to like it a lot, but more about that shortly. I read Darkside Earther in ebook form, purchased & downloaded it to my computer kindle from Amazon (here), so I wasn't able to take pretty photographs of this book like I usually do for my blog, but I must say I like this cover. I read it pretty quickly. Usually it makes me a while to read ebooks because I try to limit my 'screen time' but this one I read in two days time. It's about 300 pages long I think ( 3013 in kindle form) and that length seems perfect for the novel of this kind.
THE OPENING OF THE NOVEL: SETTING THE MOOD
The first chapter was the only that I could describe as a bit challenging. At that very start, it was a bit of a challenge to connect all the dots but it got easier with time. The world created in Darkside Earther is a very interesting and dynamic one. I found parallels with our civilization, and that is what makes it so interesting. It is set in imaginable future- or at least it feels like it. The issues like overpopulation and immigration were explored rather well. Some things never change. The balance of power is always a rather delicate thing and we have no reason to believe that the development of technology will put an end to political differences. It will probably just make them more complex. In this case that potential complexity was a source of an enjoyable plot and read. What I loved most about this novel was exactly the complexity of the world created. This is some wonderful world building. The organization of society, the transport, the political system, it is all well though trough. The people living on planet Earth are the ones most disadvantaged in this world (due to serious overpopulation). They all want out, but only capable workers are allowed to relocate to the Ring. Is there a way to do it, to reduce the population pressure of Earth by moving more people to the Ring? Not really, that much is clear from the start. It is one of the problems that don’t seem easily fixable.
THE NARRATIVE AND THE PROTAGONIST
The narrative is told from the first person point of view. The narrator is Axel, a teenager who happens to be the first person born into space. It is a while since I read anything that could be classified as YA, but I honestly didn’t mind having a teenage protagonist. I suppose it could be said that the reader learns about the complexity of this world through Axel who is trying to figure out things himself. Axel is special on account of being the only human being born in space (people living in space can’t reproduce and must rely on Earthlings for new blood). This rather unique position puts him under a lot of political and personal pressure, especially since the things aren’t working out that well between the overpopulated Earth and The Ring (where he happens to live). The balance of power gets shaken and the political unrest increases even more once he falls into love with Helen, a girl from Earth, born into an influential and possibly quite rebellious family. Both of their families aren’t happy about the connection between them two.
A ROMANCE SET IN A COMPELLINGLY COMPLICATED FUTURE
I would say that the way Darkside Earther is written is quite clever. We get more and more information as we follow along and it makes for an entertaining read. At the start of the novel there is an upsetting episode in which our protagonist Axel witness civilian casualties and finds out that things aren’t really what they seem in his idealized space society, followed by a virtual classroom with professor Bojowski which proves a perfect place to discuss all the ideas. I rather liked the description of professor Bojowski. Some of the students dare to contradict the professor, new characters get introduced, and we learn a bit more about the protagonist and so on. Then we get to the romance part, and witness a developing relationship between Axel and Helen (a girl from Earth) followed by a series of events. I’ve never been fan of the romance genre, but this ‘puppy love’ was fun to follow, probably because it also sets the plot in motion. Helen and Axel come from very different words but they seem to have everything in common. There was a short period in the narrative when I felt that things seemed to go a bit too smoothly for your lovers, but it all ends rather suddenly and our narrator finds himself in a midst of a whole new level of problems. There is a fair amount of action and a quite a few moral dilemmas that keep popping up.
THE DIALOGUES AND THE PORTRAYAL OF CHARACTERS
I liked the way the dialogues were written. This novel is action driven, so dialogues are one of the main ways we learn about characters (with the exception of Axel). Axel is the protagonist and the narrator and hence we're privy to his thought. The other characters reveal themselves mostly trough dialogues, so it is great that dialogues were well written. If I were to split hairs, I would say that there were a few instances in which Helen (linguistically speaking) sounded a bit like a guy, but nothing major, like I said, just a couple of times. Most of the time she does sound like a girl- she is a pretty adorable girl character really. I rather liked her a lot and wished we could see more of Helen’s development. There were a lot of dialogues in this novel. Perhaps the longest ones are between Axel and his parents that have a lot of explaining to do. They are the ones who seem to be ‘on to things’, but they portion the information they have at disposal carefully- and one wonders (together with the protagonist) what are they hiding. One feels Axel’s isolation, as he gets stuck between conflicting worlds, that of his influential parents and that of his girlfriend’s equally powerful parents. Those conversations felt realistic enough. I had a feeling that both parents were characters in their own right. Anyhow, the dialogues, for most part felt natural and were well fitted into the plot. The narrative flows quite effortlessly in this one.
THE OUTCAST PROTAGONIST CREATES A GOOD OPPORTUNITY FOR THE TECHNOLOGY EXPLANATION
Axel is a bit of an outcast, because he is unable to use most of technology ( nano implants don’t work on him for reasons unclear). This makes him both vulnerable and different. I liked the fact that he was an artist, I felt like it added some depth to his character. His actions felt convincing enough. Like most teenagers, he is not the most confident person out there, but he’s not the type to whine much either. He makes for a good protagonist, even if he feels a bit passive at times. I think that the fact that he isn't able to use most of the technology actually works in the novel favour. Firstly, it separates Axel from the other characters, which not only adds to his character development, but it creates space for growth. Secondly, it gives the writer an opportunity to explain the world (i.e. world building) and techology. Thirdly, Axel's predicament serves to drive the plot and put things into action. Finally, it adds to the drama of the novel.
I really liked the word styling. Not just the newly constructed words, i.e. the terms that the author had to make up to explain new concept in this world of his creation (I’ll get to those a bit later), but the vocabulary in general. There are no repeated words. Sentences are nice and neat, really fitting the narrative. The writing is quite descriptive and straightforward for most part, but it also retains its charm. Vocabulary was definitely a plus for me in this one. The sentences felt crafted with care. I tend to notice these kind of details, so this is something I enjoyed. Newly introduced words like eV, Space-OPs ,She-lathe , NAI and so on were well selected. There is a lot of vocabulary that is familiar (links, avatars, mindspace, Shapers, dust etc) but takes new meaning within this more technically advanced world. I’m not sure I got the technicalities of one episode (that scene with blood and sailing through space), but the rest seemed to made sense.
As you could probably gather from this review, I really liked this book. I think it is well written and quite original. It kept my interest while I was reading it and left me hungry for more. There isn’t a proper ending to this novel, but that is probably due to the fact that there will be a sequel (that I wouldn’t mind reading because I do find this world fascinating). I would honestly recommend it to all science fiction fans. I can imagine that this novel might be hard to follow for lazy readers (because of all new concepts) or those completely unfamiliar with this genre but what sf novel wouldn’t? There are a lot of new concept introduced, so ‘keeping up’ with all the terms might take a bit of concentration, but as far as the plot and the character development goes, the novel is pretty straightforward and easy to follow. With just enough ‘food for the thought’, it is a wonderful science fiction novel.