Kirsch’s debut sci-fi adventure novel tells a story set in a colossal starship containing 52 massive biospheres called Cylinders, inhabited by human colonists escaping an overpopulated Earth.
Lucy Natsumi is a 31-year old agricultural laborer who lives in the Cylinder of Arkadia and works for Lord Takeda. While toiling away in the fields, she dreams of something greater—something beyond the confines of her lowly existence. When a strange aircraft called Cordwainer Bird crash lands in Arkadia, Lucy, who’s always dreamed of flying, sees it as an opportunity to somehow escape her normal life. After meeting the craft’s inhabitants—Haruhi, the artificial intelligence of the plane, and Fuyuki, a mysterious man who may be a smuggler—Lucy decides to join them on their quest to elude the police and find their way back to their home Cylinder. Their journey takes them through numerous Cylinders filled with various cultures and beings—one is ruled by Apes, for example—but their quest is complicated when they realize that the supercomputer running the starship, Central Intelligence, may in fact be using them all as pawns in a grand-scale experiment. In broad generalities, this story is similar to that of John Varley’s Gaea trilogy (1979’s Titan, 1980’s Wizard, and 1984’s Demon). But more concerning than the story’s likeness to a genre classic is its unfinished quality: the characters are all two-dimensional, the worldbuilding is superficial at best, and there’s a conspicuous lack of tension throughout, which gives the reading experience an empty and emotionally flat feel. In a story of this nature, the potential for offering readers wondrous, visionary backdrops is virtually limitless—as it is in Varley’s novels—but this storyline is almost devoid of immersive description, which is terribly disappointing.
An engaging, albeit unoriginal, premise, laid low by uninspiring storytelling.