This review is part of my judging effort for the SPSFC. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.
Next on the SPSFC list was Eden M51, by G. R. Paskoff.
I was immediately impressed and entertained by the great opening lines even if the prologue and characters therein weren’t necessarily vital to the story. It was still a really good hook. We also see an insufferable wife and a scheming ex-wife in the first few pages, which sort of sets the tone for a lot of the female characters in the story. Only one or two of them actually get to the end with integrity and body intact. I don’t think it’s malicious, though – and there are great characters in here, male and female and hero and villain alike. It’s well worth a look, so you can make up your own mind.
We are introduced to Commander Nathaniel ‘Nate’ Hawke, a good solid sci-fi action protagonist, and shown a nice slice of Earth and its culture and technology as he assembles his team (special shout-out to Dead Meat from Hot Shots!, who was never going to make it through this story alive but bless him) and prepares for the historic trip to the M51 galaxy and the potentially human-habitable world of Eden. They also take a whole bunch of people who are probably spies, a vile political lobbyist bureaucrat to represent humanity in any First Contact situations (this actually makes sense because if aliens see this cunt and still decide we’re okay, it’s all gravy from then on), and of course some army guys because you’ve got to have army guys. Also enough ammo to start an intergalactic war, although to be fair humans don’t need much fucking ammo to start an intergalactic war. Usually they just need the bureaucrat guy.
I am concerned that people will read almost half of this book thinking it is one thing, and either not make it through because they don’t like the thing, or be thrown for a loop when it turns out to be another thing (that they may or may not like). I noticed several reviews, not to mention the author’s note at the start of the book explaining why this was a new edition with some of those comments addressed, that confirmed this assessment. But given that I was pretty okay with Thing One, and very much okay with Thing Two, I was pretty happy throughout.
My first belly-laugh, in contrast to the appreciative chortle I got from the prologue, was Admiral Langolier. I just can’t get past langolier being a Stephen King thing and I kept expecting the Admiral to open his mouth to reveal row upon eternal whickering row of sharp, reality-devouring teeth. Anyway, that didn’t happen. Sorry. The story was still good but not as good as it might have been if Admiral Langolier had been an actual langolier. But look, you can say that about just about any story.
The future history of the Earth and solar system Paskoff writes of is at once gritty and dystopian, and filled with downright wondrous scientific advances. This is probably not far from the truth of how it will go. I just hope that if we do invent quantum tunnelling probes, teleportation hubs and the ability to fly thirty million light years in six months, we make use of it a little more effectively. But we’re humans, so I’m not holding my breath in the wait for us to miraculously not be shit. I mean, God gave up so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Some of the exposition about the world of the 23rd Century is a bit clumsy. Why did the boat skipper tell Hawke all that stuff about the climate collapse? It was valuable to the reader, and it was interesting that the skipper’s lived experience didn’t match what was taught in schools, but that fact was almost glossed over when it could have been an important plot point about Earthly politics and delusion. It might have risked further bloating and sidetracking of the narrative, though, so I do see the value in moving on. The Mars holocaust, in contrast, is tantalisingly mentioned and then later expanded on in a way that fits the story better, without becoming a big chunk of wait-what-I-want-to-know-more-about-that-come-back-skipper-come-baaaaaack for the reader to trip on.
My second belly-laugh was when I read about ‘chewbacco’. That was great. That was exactly where I thought Chewbacca got his name when I was a kid.
The political intrigue, murders and sabotage were all done really nicely, lending a sense of menace and stakes to the pre-launch and mid-flight plot. The characters were all distinctive and memorable. The story itself was solid old school space adventure on the way to and exploring a strange alien wossname, reminiscent of the Bowl of Heaven series by Niven and Benford. Only that had more interesting alien infrastructure, and this has more interesting humans. The plan for human colonisation as laid out by Snelling is instantly and catastrophically depressing, and it only gets worse. Don’t expect to come out of this feeling good about being a human. And if you felt good before now, you weren’t paying attention.
My third belly-laugh came when the aliens only wanted to talk to Hawke, and for a second it looked like it was because they were racist (or hair-and-eye-colour-ist). It was just such a fun and funny idea and scene, and although there turned out to be much more to it, I was left with a grin on my face. The aliens themselves, pacifist innocent-native communists of the most wonderful kind, were reminiscent (to my mind’e eye) of the Pearls of Mül, from Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.
All of this adds up to a good, if troubling read.
Hawke goes full Kirk really fast the second he sees a naked alien chick. And for some unfathomable reason, the first mission to Eden manages to sign on a man who straight-up tries to rape an alien child. This is solid true-to-form coloniser shit, but fuck if it isn’t depressing. Aside from that, and some shipboard romance and a lot of (literal) Frank banter, there’s little in the way of sex. Three slowly-opening dewy alien flowers out of a possible Pink Floyd music video.
We get a bit of violence but it is large-scale and not very gory. We get a couple of excellent assassinations on Earth and some murders on the ship en route to Eden, but the latter at least are relatively clinical. Still, a solid body count. Three-and-a-half flesh-gobbets out of a possible five for Eden M51.
I don’t understand how humanity has the technology to cross 30 million light years in six months, and this was the closest planet they could find. Aren’t there any in the Milky Way? Some lampshading about how hard it was to find one that was just right might have been good. Also, naturally, the big mid-to-two-thirds reveal was a huge and highly enjoyable WTF, but I was waiting for the connection to be drawn between ah’n-Ben and the mysterious power field around the planet. Maybe I just missed it? Was it implied? Was the power field even mentioned after they landed? Let’s award this one a 2001: A Space Odyssey out of a possible Star Trek V: The Final Frontier on the WTF-o-meter.
My Final Verdict
A really interesting take on higher powers and a harrowing look at colonialism and the general shittiness of humans. Four stars on the Goodreads / Amazon scale – I guess it would have been three-and-a-half since it was dragged down a little by some elements, but it was elevated by the philosophy of the second half. Excellent stuff!