Saturday, February 8, 2014

Other Systems - Elizabeth Guizzetti - Book Review

Having been dragged up on science fiction and epic fantasy, I tend to keep my eyes open for any promising new authors in those genres. I do that so I don't inadvertently miss something really impressive, or inspirational, or exciting.  Other Systems by Elizabeth Guizzetti is all of those - and more. I truly believe she is one of the greatest new talents in science fiction today - and here is why...

Science fiction is both one of the most difficult and one of the most maligned genres in which an author can work. Why do I say that? Because the task of the author has additional multiple challenges that other genres don't have. Biggest of these, and usually the most ridiculed, is the ability to make and keep the "science" believable, understandable, and realistic within given laws of astrophysics. Fail on any of these three facets, and your readers will lose interest, and your critics lambast you with your egregious errors.
Then there is the challenge of building and populating not one, but multiple "worlds", and keeping each one distinct enough to avoid confusion and make them interesting enough to register with the reader. The term "worlds" here doesn't just mean different planets, because, essentially, every space craft out there is its own unique world, with different "lands" - bridge, engine room, labs, sick bays - did you ever watch Star Trek? Novelists in other genres usually only have one world to deal with - Earth.
And then there is the back story and plot. Yes - these are challenges for all novelists, but it's very easy for the sci-fi author to compromise on the quality and scope of their storylines by getting too involved in their other challenges, resulting in a weak plot strung together on the other elements.
In Other Systems, Elizabeth Guizzetti brings all of these facets, and more, together in a superb new masterpiece of the genre. Her world-building skills are phenomenal, as she takes us to not just one or two, but a whole series of new and unique worlds, some highly populated with homo sapiens and various descendant species, and others populated with true alien life-forms. Then there is her science - sharp, detailed, deep, and understandable. Yes, there's the jargon - but it's kept to a minimum, and what is there is clearly explained so the reader doesn't feel either overwhelmed OR under-informed. These achievements alone make the story interesting and complex.
And then we have the story itself. This builds on themes introduced by Arthur C. Clarke (yes - it's that good) in The Songs of Distant Earth, dealing with the interactions between new worlds populated by Humankind on their exodus from an otherwise compromised home planet, and that home planet. On a hugely over-populated Earth, we meet Abby Boyd Lei and her family, whose daily routines are suddenly disrupted by the arrival of a fleet of transport ships from the distant colony of Kipos, where they are seeking a huge influx of human genome in order to prevent their civilization from dying out. Abby and her siblings and friends are sold a story of a wonderful new life, that will give them the opportunity to grow and develop in a rich, new world that will provide them all the pleasures and joys they could never hope to find on the over-crowded, decaying Earth.
As is to be expected, the reality is far from the truth. After their sub-light speed voyage to Kipos, Abby is ruthlessly torn from her younger sister, and her brother and friend are no where to be seen. She is taken by one of the elite families of the civilization, as breeding stock, and is abused and humiliated, kept in a drugged and duped state. I will not detail all of Abby's horrors here - buy the book if you want to know the full story - but she eventually escapes to join a deep space exploration ship, and build her way into their lives and their love, showing her true worth.  This part of the book is reminiscent of Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis, as we encounter numerous new worlds and new life forms, all the while with the spectre of betrayal or discovery, which would send her back to Kipos, and the life she had escaped from - or worse.
Guizzetti's writing is stimulating and interesting, and her ability to knit all of her back stories together is both skillful and inspiring. Her story brings us back to the considerations that will be faced by a future, aging, over-populated Earth, and the achievements, and the perils, that await us. A wonderful, wonderful book, well worth the read.

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