In Shimkus’ literary sci-fi debut, humans are transported to an alternate galaxy as they grapple with the survival of their species.
Around the turn of first millennium C.E., a group of “pink skinned” earthlings were abducted and transported to a planet across the galaxy by an alien race that communicates and shares technology with humans once a century. On Nettara, the human population is diminutive; sea monsters populate massive oceans and winters are long and fierce. It’s a world without earthly divisions of state, race or religion, ruled by an oligarchy of “Minds”—individuals with telekinetic, telepathic and other psychic abilities. Over two decades, the novel follows Michael Rossignol, Bran Leveq—Michael’s oldest friend and lover—and a collection of family and friends as they navigate basic human challenges as well as problems specific to their new world. Many Nettarans are born hermaphroditic and sterile; as a result, their population is dwindling, and conflicts flare with an isolated sect opposed to the rule of the Minds. Shimkus examines what society would look like if it developed in a different environment. Her peculiar answer: It would have contemporary scientific cosmology, a Victorian order of precedence and female disenfranchisement, ancient Greek Epicureanism, and an acceptance of homosexuality and polyamory. The novel debates technological advancement, space travel, sexuality and social stratification, proposing unique analysis along the way: “What looks out from within each of us is the universe itself changing from one consciousness to another.” Less effective are musings on intrinsic human violence, an uncomfortable affirmation of eugenics and the dichotomous, repeatedly reinforced idea that males are sexually fluid while females remain flatly heterosexual. Stylistically, the writing in the opening pages in particular is dense and difficult to parse. The book’s second half abruptly shifts focus, and several relationships feel awkwardly forced. Ultimately, however, the volume offers a successful twist on futurism and alien worlds.
Stylish, satisfying sci-fi.