Tag Archives: generation ships

Review of The Forever Watch by David Ramirez

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The Noah: a city-sized ship, four hundred years into an epic voyage to another planet. In a world where deeds, and even thoughts, cannot be kept secret, a man is murdered; his body so ruined that his identity must be established from DNA evidence. Within hours, all trace of the crime is swept away, hidden as though it never happened. Hana Dempsey, a mid-level bureaucrat genetically modified to use the Noah’s telepathic internet, begins to investigate. Her search for the truth will uncover the impossible: a serial killer who has been operating on board for a lifetime… if not longer. And behind the killer lies a conspiracy centuries in the making.

theforeverwatchAnd there you have the blurb… I’m a sucker for generational ship science fiction – it provides an ideal backdrop for any kind of drama, given that it is the ultimate closed system. And because it is also entirely imaginary, it means an author can add/tweak all sorts of details designed to ramp up the tension and increase the sense of claustrophobia… So does Ramirez take full advantage of this scenario? Oh yes.

We are immediately pulled into the daily routine of the ship via Ramirez’s protagonist, Hana in first person viewpoint telling her story in present tense. Those readers who sometimes grumble that men cannot write convincing women need to read The Forever Watch – I loved Hana’s character. She is sympathetic, vulnerable and highly intelligent without coming across as arrogant or geeky, which is far harder to pull off than Ramirez makes it look. And caring about Hana is vital, as we need to be firmly in her corner as she starts on her journey of uncovering the mystery lurking in the bowels of Noah. She encounters the police enforcer, Barrens, who rescues her from a horrible situation and they strike up an unlikely friendship. It is Barrens who pulls her into his search for the criminal who shredded his colleague and mentor. He is convinced there is a high-level conspiracy operating to cover up the vicious killings and although she is initially dubious, Hana gradually finds herself in agreement with Barrens.

The first section of the book is taut with the growing sense of insecurity as Hana increasingly feels that all the safe, everyday details of her life is a hollow disguise, as a merciless criminal strikes with impunity throughout the ship. I was completely caught up in the storyline, though my enjoyment was tempered by a niggling fear. I’ve never read anything else by Ramirez, and when an author creates such a tense, fearful atmosphere, he has to ensure that the denouement fully delivers. After steadily building up this shocking, terrible secret – it had to be HUGE…

So does he deliver? Oh yes. The whole book is superbly crafted, with the climax and final denouement leaving me with tears in my eyes. It all completely hung together and was every bit as shocking as was hinted at throughout. Even if you are not in the habit of reading science fiction, yet love mystery thrillers – get hold of The Forever Watch. It is a storming debut and I shall be looking out for this author’s next book. Ramirez is One To Watch.
10/10

Review of Journey Into Space by Toby Litt

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This is a generation ship novel – a classic science fiction theme that has also been visited by Robert A. Heinlein in his book Orphans of the Sky, Paradises Lost by Ursula LeGuin and The Book of the Long Sun by Gene Wolf to name but a few…
A vast generation ship hurtles away from a violent, troubled Earth to settle on a distant planet orbiting an alien star. Those who set out on this journey are long-since dead. Those who will arrive at their destination have yet to be born. For those who must live and die in the cold emptiness between the stars, there is only the claustrophobic permanence of non-being. Life lived in unending stasis.
Then the unthinkable happens: two souls – Auguste and Celeste – rebel. And from the fruit of their rebellion comes a new and powerful force which will take charge of the ship’s destiny.

Auguste and Celeste pine for the lost Earth they’ve never seen and it is this craving that draws them together. Auguste’s character is journeyintospacevividly depicted as his longing for Celeste merges with his attempts to describe weather events that he has never experienced. Litt’s writing ability fully flowers in the first section of this short novel as the interaction between the young teenagers is poetically described and the characters sing off the page – although I did find myself skimming through a very long Earth-like metaphor… I felt it was too heavy-handed a literary flourish at this crucial stage in the action.

However, Litt’s focus abruptly shifts from the young couple as events move onto the next two generations and we don’t get the same depth and complexity of characterisation with any of the subsequent protagonists. To be honest, I found some of the following events difficult to believe. The notion that someone as spoilt and self-centred as Three would devote whole years of her life to producing a letter – and why wouldn’t there be paper and writing implements on a colonial ship, anyhow?

As the years speed on by and the crew become increasingly alienated from their original Mission and more wrapped up in the capricious demands of their mentally challenged Captain, the novel lifts away from the character-led depiction of the beginning and into an omniscient viewpoint as Litt skims across the next major protagonists in his story, leading to the shocking end which I should have cared about a lot more than I actually did.

I found the notion that humans start behaving oddly when shut away from Earth-based sensory stimuli to be entirely believable. However, I do feel that in order to fully convince his readership that Three’s behaviour or the ending is a convincing outcome, Litt needed to spend more time and energy on the second half of the novel. It seems to be a book of two halves and the latter section simply does not live up to the shining promise of the beginning, which is a real shame. Litt is clearly a talented and extremely capable writer – the fact that this is still a book worth reading despite the rather perfunctory ending demonstrates this. If only he had continued writing with the same fire and conviction shown in the first section, I believe this could have rivalled the likes of LeGuin’s outstanding Paradises Lost. As it is, Journey Into Space is a thought provoking but ultimately flawed attempt to examine this fascinating concept.
7/10