Three prisoners reflect on their violent lives as they face execution in this debut sci-fi novel.
In the future, humanity has colonized the galaxy, developed telepathic communication and mastered gene manipulation, but conflict between various groups persists. The world-conquering Ash’torians imprison Jenchae, a rebellious, mind-reading Striver who resists being absorbed into their religious culture. They’re transporting him via spacecraft to a Quol’shab, or Death Planet. After several days alone in a dimly lit cell, he is joined by Elek, another Striver, who has been jailed for murder. Elek is a sverra, a human genetically engineered for physical labor and longevity, and his violent mind is closed to Jenchae’s mental probing. After sharing a few stories, the prisoners make mental contact and exchange their philosophies on trust, faith and resistance. After the transport ship is attacked, an attractive, half-sverra woman, Meravyn, is thrown into their quarters. She reminds Elek of an unrequited love, which threatens the murderer’s peaceful mental state. Early on, Spicer draws readers in with elegant atmospherics: “From the ceiling, twilight lamps looked down like facets of an insect’s eye.” The cell and its contents (mainly red bowls and black tiles) are described with wondrous intimacy; the novel also brings readers, via flashbacks, to the characters’ home planets of Manyrock and Yorun. Packed with quotable speeches and history, Spicer’s realm may remind readers of the one portrayed in Frank Herbert’s classic Dune series. Yet this world is more akin to Earth, full of religious strife that contorts people into heroes, killers and sometimes both. The author’s consistently engaging dialogue speeds the reader through the idle days of the imprisoned trio; for example, when Jenchae asks Elek how he killed the “very many people” that weigh on his soul, Elek simply responds, “Fast.” Indeed, the philosophically stimulating conversation is this novel’s strongest point, despite the fact that the Manyrock dialect contains awkward instances of “thee” and “thou.” This small criticism hardly detracts from the novel’s remarkable, unpredictable ending.
A carefully paced, rewarding sci-fi debut.