Crash by Guy Haley (book review)

March 26, 2016 | By | Reply More

I’d like to start by saying that this is the best ‘hard’ SF book that I’ve read since, probably, ‘The Martian’. Not that it has much in common with that, other than people being abandoned on a strange planet, but the science is good, the author has done his research and the characters are interesting and believable.

CrashGuyHaley

To start with it seems rather episodic, with various threads and one may wonder where it is going. The first, short chapter is an excerpt from a speech given by the CEO of Lodestone Inc. at the official launch of the Gateway Project in 2153, which sets the scene. It explains why mankind needs to expand into space and why ‘The Market’ also requires space to grow. This is a rather neat device which the author uses throughout the book to explain certain aspects of the story or backstory, without having lots of exposition. Along with the cover art, credited to Pye Parr and Sam Howie, in this case it suggests that the titular crash could refer to the Market as much as to anything physical.

Another excerpt, this time from ‘one of Professor Todeo Hiyazaki’s series of banned lectures on the Pointer families’. This refers to something with which we, in this day and age, are all too familiar: the accumulation of wealth by one small class of people, which it says has proved cyclical. In this future world, the ‘Pointers’ have arisen from industrialists, merchants and financiers and they jealously guard their wealth, even as an abstract concept. As we all know, wealth generates wealth. Earth’s resources have been exhausted and its inhabitants urgently seek new homes. Obviously, only the Pointers have the wealth to fund this search, but will they simply export their manipulations to other worlds and maintain their stranglehold on their populaces?

Following these preambles, we plunge straight into the story proper or we seem to, although it is entitled ‘Prologue’: “Darius Szczecinski was dead, then he was not,” we read. In fact, it turns out that his ‘cofffin’ is a hibernation capsule on a starship, the Adam Mickiewicz and he is being awakened by its machines, more quickly than he should have been. He and an awakened woman manage to escape and find that the hibernation capsules of their ship are scattered across a sandy desert. Dariusz realises that he is somehow responsible, as the result of meeting in a bar a man called Browning, who offers him the chance to take his son Daniel with him when he becomes an engineer on one of the starships, rather than leaving him alone on a dying Earth. It is an offer he finds he can’t refuse.

But this was, in movie terms, a flashback, because we have yet to find out how the ship’s crash came about. So first we come to Chapter One: The Market. This turns out to be a dissertation on just that. The Market, which makes money for the Pointers, the 0.01% of the population who hold 80% of the world’s wealth. One man, Karl Njålsson, realises that something is wrong but nobody else appears to be aware of it. It is here that we meet some of his gay friends and Cassandra De Mona, known as Sand, who is a pilot. She features strongly later on in the novel and, indeed, becomes an essential character. It is revealed that the Pointers are building a whole fleet of starships, presumably to found colonies on the worlds of other stars, so as to spread their influence and wealth there. Yet this is not affecting The Market as Karl would expect. Just when he thinks that he is finding out what’s going on, he himself suffers a crash and effectively dies.

This, as they say, is where the story really starts. Anderson is an ‘Alt’. The Pointers needed slaves and neither humans or androids were really suitable, so the Alts were created. Later, he plays an important part in the story. The Alts are altered humans, their genes recoded so that legally they do not count as human or so the Pointers claim. His master is Ilya Petrovich, ‘American Faux-Russian’, a character whose personality, although he features throughout the story, is never really developed fully. His brother, Leonid, is treated rather better and becomes the natural leader of the colony that eventually develops but not on the planet Heracles V, its original destination, but one that they eventually name Nychthemeron, a world which does not rotate, so has one permanent day and one night side. Furthermore, they have travelled not for fifty years, but for five hundred! I have always been a bit suspicious about the habitability of non-rotating planets, but the science here is quite convincingly explained, with ferocious storms on the terminator, which are later used to good and exciting effect when it becomes necessary for Sand and others to travel from the day to the night-side. There is no sign of their sister ships but a few shuttles remain, in which Sand can ferry passengers down to the surface.

Most of the novel from now on is a fairly straightforward, Baxter-style world-building exercise. How do a few thousand people, nearly all of whom are either German or come from Eastern European countries, many Polish – so speak different languages, apart from Lingua Anglica – survive on this unwelcoming planet? Are there already inhabitants and, if so, will they be hostile? The survivors all have inChips embedded in their skulls, but these work only fitfully thanks to the crash, as do their tablets. The part of Dariusz in the crash gradually becomes clear and he is forced to flee for fear of discovery. He had believed that he was merely making it impossible for the Pointers’ original plan to erect the Gateway, a wormhole to facilitate future travel to the chosen worlds, to be carried out. He did so by planting a virus in the ship’s systems core or Syscore, the Pointers would thus be robbed of their power, out in these other worlds. But Dariusz had not foreseen the tragedy he would actually precipitate or the human suffering he would cause, so he is racked with guilt.

A clever book, which could perhaps have been written in a slightly less piecemeal way but if, like many of us, you are bemoaning the lack nowadays of good, solid SF, this is definitely for you!

David A. Hardy

March 2016

(pub: Solaris/Rebellion Publishing/HarperCollins, 21013. 375 page small enlarged paperback. Price: £ 7.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-78108-120-4)

check out website: www.solarisbooks.com

Category: Books, Scifi

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About the Author ()

David A. Hardy, FBIS, FIAAA is the longest-established living space artist in the West, being first published in 1952. From working almost exclusively in water colours and gouache he has gone on to embrace acrylics, oils, pastels and, since 1991, digital art on a Mac. For more art, including prints of this and other works, visit http://www.astroart.org, where you can find many links, tutorials, books and prints and originals for sale. Dave is Vice President of the Association of Science Fiction & Fantasy Artists (ASFA) and European VP of the International Association of Astronomical Artists (IAAA), and has an asteroid named after him! His SF novel 'Aurora' is now available in a revised and updated edition on Amazon etc. See a review of this and an interview with Pauline Morgan (November 2012) here: http://sfcrowsnest.info/?s=hardy

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