In this series opener, a teen on a newly inhabited planet fights for a way to expand a colony more organically than industrial advancement.
Seventeen-year-old Yori Kashimoto was born on the Galatea, a starship that saved people from the dying planet Ulro. Now living in a colony on Planet 2314, the curious Yori, studying history at the New Academy, often traverses the largely unexplored hills. In a cave, he meets Paola, whom Yori’s certain is an alien and who allows him to ask her one question. His ultimate inquiry —“Who are you?”—precipitates a cumbersome response: Paola’s one of three survivors of the original landing party, which included Yori’s father, Akira, now dead. Shockingly, her version of events is noticeably different from Starship Command’s claim of an accident killing 20 explorers. At a seminar later, a somewhat disillusioned Yori argues against the status quo of the colony’s evolution via technology, a system that seems to favor machinery over humans. This puts Yori at risk, because some assert that his stance could spark civil unrest among the colonists. The technocrats opt for technological efficiency, but Yori believes in “growing people,” which takes time but likewise preserves the land. Heated political discourse is inevitable, while Yori has more to learn regarding his father’s fate. Swearingen (The Prodigals, 2013, etc.) launches an epic sci-fi tale with surprisingly few characters, though he develops them with proficiency. Lars Hanssen, for example, is Yori’s childhood friend and dorm roommate, and as an engineer represents the industrial opposition to the protagonist campaigning for agricultural means. Frequent debates on how best to sustain the colony are boosted by a story with effectual time jumps (of years) and an understated love triangle involving Yori, fellow student Véronique, and Paola. Meanwhile, Swearingen’s third-person prose is persistently invigorating, an omniscient narrator making seemingly impulsive observations; as Yori reads of someone’s uncertain future, there’s an elegiac aside: “And yet isn’t he, too, facing the unknown, tempted by whispers from inaccessible dimensions?” The author leaves plenty for sequels to explore, from what happened back on Ulro to life on the Galatea.
Politics makes for a profound and enjoyable sci-fi tale with all the genre ingredients.