This review is part of my judging effort for the SPSFC. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.
My latest #SPSFC book was The Awakening, by Adair Hart. Book 1 of the Evaran Chronicles.
Man, where to start? At the beginning, I guess. And bear with me because this doesn’t sound great but it’s crucial to remind you that it all works.
This book opens hard, and it doesn’t apologise for it. There’s a space thug named Jerzan Graduul, there’s Dalruns and Bilaxians and Greers, oh my! There’s a whole lot of information all at once – not so much an info dump as an info tommy gunning – and there’s a space anomaly, and…
And then, in a switchover that made me wonder if we were about to read the novel equivalent of Critters (or even worse [better?], Alien vs. Predator), we were whisked away to a sleepy little college campus on more-or-less-present-day Earth, where we meet mild-mannered Dr. Snowden and his niece Emily. Only it turns out they’re in a simulation of Earth after they were abducted by aliens, and the simulation is breaking down, and they’re pulled out of it and back into crazy over-the-top space by a mysterious alien named Evaran. As in Book 1 of the Evaran Chronicles Evaran.
Then, of course, we skip across to meet another couple of humans who were abducted and are in the same situation as Emily and Dr. Snowden. Including the real hero here:
I’m talking about Jay Beerman.
This army vet truck driver introduces himself to the reader by shitting his actual pants, pulling over at a truck stop to wash the clinkers off, then responds to the deactivation of the alien abduction simulation and the encroaching dark of utter existential negation by balling up his fists and shouting, “Well c’mon then, you pussy-ass darkness!”
Needless to say, I was smitten. Jay Beerman, the hero we deserve.
This book has a bit of everything. Alien monsters, cool tech, time travel and reality-hopping and worldbuilding on an incredible scale, and Jay Beerman. We circle back around to the characters from the prologue after a few chapters of complete, relentless immersion and the result is a very satisfying ohhhh, now I get what’s going on here. You suddenly see Evaran in a new light, and as the story fills out it is just very cool. I never did quite get the Critters / The Last Starfighter imagery out of my head, even when I realised this was really more like the R-rated Doctor Who we could have gotten but we got Torchwood instead (and Torchwood was fine, I guess, but – and this is important – it didn’t have Jay Beerman in it so fuck Torchwood), but that’s okay. It’s all good.
You get a distinct, if a little hackneyed-slaver-pirate, sense of menace from the mercenaries, and the rest of the characters are nicely relatable and you definitely get invested in their fates. Oh, and the universal translator, with its “nearest available colloquialism” function? Nothing short of brilliant. It provides a perfect explanation for dialogue that might otherwise pull the reader out of the story. All in all this was a really enjoyable read.
Let’s get down to brass tacks.
The space mercenaries were a bit on the rapey side, but it was mostly talk and soliloquy – there was not really any sex in the story itself. Which is good, because the gang-rape of lesbian character trope is pretty on the nose. I mean, rape of any kind but you know. Like I said elsewhere, I’m saving up for some grimdark here and I know what comes with that territory so I’m toughening up. Anyway, the mercenaries were gross but it was fine (as long as you’re “okay” with reading that sort of thing). Let’s give this story a single dried-out scrap of melon rind out of a possible five melons of assorted firmness and pulpiness, with a variety of different-sized and -shaped holes cut in them.
Plenty of gore, lots of death and dismemberment and gross alien killing methods, severed limbs and stinky decomposing corpses. I was mildly disappointed the worm pit didn’t get used for one of the bad guys but I’ll cope. Can’t ask for much more than this without the gore becoming the point of the story, so nicely done. I’ll award The Awakening four flesh-gobbets out of five.
The Farethedan and the Matter Mages, the timelines and alternate realities and the different variants of people, all of it, it’s very big and very cool and very WTF. Evaran fixes things in some cases but doesn’t undo or prevent disasters (like the massacre of Neoparene) … I wondered why that was, but the explanation holds up. We veered a little bit derivative particularly towards the end, with the
sonic screwdriver and the TARDIS stuff Evaran was working with, but considering some of the incredible revelations Hart springs on us in the closing chapters of the book, I’m going to allow it. And the similarities are earned. Evaran’s couple of closing lines to the main bad guy are just brilliant, and just serve to add a juicy WTF cherry to the top of the WTF sundae. Which is what I will give this story, out of a possible same thing but with some sprinkles. And honestly, I don’t care for sprinkles.
My Final Verdict
The Awakening could use a bit more polish, there are still some parts that read more clumsily than others and Hart has some quirks that take a bit of getting used to. I admire the fact that this was a second edition and it was clear that a lot of issues had been patched up and re-worked and new scenes added. The improvement is somehow noticeable even without having seen the first edition. This story concludes with a nice lesson about not judging people on first impressions, and showing your emotions, but it doesn’t get preachy. The whole thing, I want more. And there’s a ton of these books, so it’s an absolute win! I can only assume Jay Beerman will continue to…
*Word-searches for Jay through the Evaran Chronicles product pages*
Anyway, four stars for The Awakening. Great stuff!
Pingback: SPSFC: Quarterfinalists