Gallowglass by S.J. Morden (book review).

‘Gallowglass’ by S.J. Morden is near future novel set at first on Earth, then later in space and on the Moon.

Despite climate change making things difficult on Earth in 2069, the mega-rich have built fortresses for their families against both climate and intruders, make profits wherever they can, including asteroid mining, indulge in their favourite leisure pursuits and take treatments so they can live forever.

At the age of 15, Jack Van der Veerden decided he did not want to be a cocooned billionaires’ heir taking immortality treatments and started planning his escape. A decade later, he succeeded in getting away with the help of a few hackers. But, by the time he arrives at the Low Earth Orbit transit station, the job he was going to on the Moon has vanished. His parents have made the company bankrupt in a move to persuade Jack to return home.

Jack stubbornly refuses, but the only way to survive is to become an Astrogator on an asteroid mining ship travelling as far away from Earth as he can get. The trip out goes smoothly as he learns the ways of the crew. Things start to unravel when they arrive at the asteroid, 1998-KU2. Its newly assessed structure makes it more difficult to manoeuvre back to Lunar L4 where it will be mined for minerals. The gallowglass of this story is the person who went out to stake their claim to KU2, Catherine Vi, Cat for short, and sold it to the corporation that owns Jack’s ship.

She is in a sleep tank on a tiny spaceship orbiting the asteroid in a debris ring which will be difficult to retrieve. Jack’s mining ship turns out to have been stolen from the corporation, which brings with it all sorts of legal problems. It gets worse for Jack as he fights his way through one problem after another.

While the novel’s plot is the standard rich boy making his own way in the Solar System, the underlying theme is about how climate change can affect human activities off-Earth. This turns out to be far reaching and, in some instances, very subtle. For instance, the gallowglass made the journey and did unthinkable criminal acts because of the effects of climate change on her homeland. Another example is the contrast in the need for recycling in space compared to the discarded waste from avarice and greed we see on Earth. Morden is to be commended for exploring such an unusual theme.

If there is a fault to be had with the novel, it is that the impact of Earth’s climate change is not explained more obviously. Too often it is left to the reader to join the longer chains of causal reasons together. But, once the reader realises what this novel is about, they will find the ending very satisfying.

The lack of explanations allows the novel to keep up the required pace of an action thriller. The world-building is realistic and only sufficiently detailed to enhance the story. The writing style changes in line with Jack’s development as a character. This attention to how the story is written enhances the whole reading experience.

In summary, Morden has taken on a difficult multi-faceted theme of the impact of Earth’s climate change on space activities in the near future and almost made his novel into a Science Fiction classic.

Rosie Oliver

December 2020

(pub: Gollancz, 2020. 317 page enlarged paperback. Price: £16.99 (UK). ISBN: 978 1 47322-854-2)

check out website: www.gollancz.co.uk

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