Guy Haley is always worth reading – and when I came across his latest book, it was a must-read.
Dariusz is an engineer whose career ended years ago: now, a man he’s never met sits in a bar that doesn’t exist and offers him a fresh start… at a price. Cassandra – ‘Sand’ to her friends – is a space pilot, who itches to get her hands on the controls and actually fly a ship, rather than watch computers do it for her. The ‘Pointers’ – the elite 0.01% who control virtually all wealth – have seen the limitations of a plundered Earth and set their eyes on the stars. And now Dariusz and Sand, and a half-million ambitious men and women just like them, are sent out to extend the Pointers’ and the Market’s influence across the galaxy – but events don’t go according to plan…
I’ve omitted the final paragraph of the back-cover blurb as it contains far too many spoilers. But you have the scenario of a generation-ship and pioneer colony tale – classic science fiction fare. Does Haley provide a sufficiently novel spin on this familiar storyline? Oh, for sure. Haley’s tale of ordinary men and women trying to prevail while snared in a cat’s-cradle of social inequality, hubris and deep-laid plots makes for an engrossing read. His smooth style is effective at depicting his protagonists with sufficient depth and complexity that we root for them despite the fact that he isn’t afraid to show their flaws. Or kill a few main characters off along the way…
The story continues gathering pace throughout the book, so there are several significant time-jumps near the end as the action whisks along at a fair clip. If Haley wasn’t such an accomplished writer, I might have had more of a problem with his accelerating narrative pace and felt somewhat cheated by being scurried along. But I didn’t, because he is also extremely good at depicting his landscapes. No matter if we were hammering through the story at almost sprint speed, there wasn’t any time that I didn’t have a very clear idea exactly how the protagonists were feeling about the whole business – or where they were and what it looked, felt and smelt like.
If you aren’t a SFF fan, perhaps you don’t realise just what a huge deal this is. It’s tricky enough presenting a convincing backdrop of a familiar cityscape as background to a whodunit without putting a brake on the murder mystery. But when you are establishing a fantastic landscape that no one other than the writer can see in his mind’s eye, this suddenly becomes a major issue. Hence, it isn’t uncommon for two to three pages of info-dumps to regularly occur in SFF books, which we either skim or revel in, depending on our preference. I like to be able to clearly visualise the world and how the characters interact with it in, without pages of turgid detail. And Haley manages to deliver this in cinematic, pin-sharp detail, making it look a whole lot easier than it actually is.
There is clearly a sequel to this adventure, as far too many dangling plot points are waving in the wind for this to be a stand-alone story. And I shall be on the lookout for it when it hits the shelves – meanwhile Haley’s lonely colony will lodge in my head due to his strong, skilful depiction of their plight.