Rejoice, A Knife To The Heart by Steven Erikson (book review).

January 11, 2019 | By | Reply More

The arrival of an alien intelligence to intervene in Earth’s affairs signals an end to violence, illness and environmental degradation. You would think this would be good news, but a lot of the rich and powerful, as well as the violent and sadistic, are not very happy at all. As force fields spread across the Earth to protect wildlife habitats and weapons become obsolete, the book cycles between numerous characters to see how their lives are affected. Some of them are presidents and high-ranking officials of various countries, media moguls and businessmen, while others are drug-addicts, homesteaders and housewives whose lives are nominally improved but are fundamentally impacted in ways they cannot initially comprehend.

The main character of the book is Science Fiction author Samantha August, who is abducted by the aliens to act as their spokesman on the basis of her open mind and large social media following. I was rather pleased about this, because in so many films everyone is completely clueless in the event of an alien invasion that you wonder if any of them have ever watched any Science Fiction films. There were lots of SF references scattered throughout the book, which I found a little too much eventually. At some points, the book seems to be exalting itself as a real contact story, in comparison with the ill-conceived efforts of other authors. I say Samantha August was the main character, but this is only because she is the one who is selected as spokesman and spends most of the novel orbiting the Earth unseen, conversing with the alien AI and observing developments on the planet. She doesn’t seem to take up more pages than any other character particularly and in fact does nothing but talk for much, if not all, of the book. Her discussions tend to wax philosophical and her viewpoint is used to reconcile humanity’s behaviour with what the alien interventionists are planning, while she debates whether she really wants to become the face of the potential enemy. She reasons with Adam, the AI, on some points but, in reality, her influence on the almost-omniscient AI is minimal. She is merely our conduit into an omniscient viewpoint.

Through the viewpoint of journalist, vloggers, SF writers and talk-show hosts, we are privy to numerous conversation and debates on the intentions of the aliens and the state of the Earth and humanity. For the most part, that’s all that the book was composed of: conversations, rants, bemoanings of fate. From the first intervention from above, no human character had any choice about what happened to them, unless they wanted to kill themselves and nobody had any power to change anything. It was a strangely passive book, watching while stuff happened in the background that often could not be seen and the benefits of which could not immediately be felt. The circle of characters eventually swept back round so that the on-going effects of intervention could be seen on individual lives but, as the intervention was still on-going, there was no conclusion, no answer to what became of them. There were so many characters, in so many varied situations who had such a small part to play in the book that it was difficult to remember who they were, never mind care what happened to them.

Several of the characters were rather stereotyped and thinly veiled copies of real people: a Trump-like president of the USA and a Murdoch-like media mogul. They were very unsympathetic and the entire USA and capitalism were vilified throughout the book, while those from other countries came off slightly more sympathetic.

I wasn’t sure what to make of the book in the end. A contact novel in which not much happens, a manifesto against environmental degradation or a collection of snapshots of random people’s lives. I don’t really care what happens to any of them next.

Gareth D Jones

January 2019

(pub: Gollancz, 2018. 405 page hardback. Price: £18.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-857-22380-6)

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Category: Books, Scifi

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