This review is part of my judging effort for SPSFC2. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.
Now let’s take a look at Redshift, a space opera adventure, Singularity Book 1 by R. M. Olson. You know, I was just saying in my Zero Day review that I’d done a review for SPSFC1 that was centred around the zero day concept. Turns out this is by the same author! Funny old world (as I was also saying).
I immediately approve of the neat sci-fi-ey title even though (not to spoil) there didn’t ultimately seem to be much connection to red-shift and light-speed phenomena – the black hole on the cover and the singularity concept isn’t … it’s just a hole in space they go through, red-shift isn’t really mentioned? Maybe I’ve missed something really basic – it happens. But yes, full credit.
My approval soared still further as I moved on past the cover and we met our main protagonist, Aran, and his friend in the backpack who can survive inside an active (and more!) volcano, and has tentacles. What is this? I love it. Aran’s other friend – the one without tentacles, Istvay – is a non-binary will-they-won’t-they complex best-friend-love type of secondary protagonist, and they’re dying of something. Aran is after a cure. This is an excellent setup. And the normalised existence of non-binary folks, I felt, was very cool. It was a bit of a comprehension stumbling block, as the singular ‘they’ always has been for me, but well worth the minimal effort it takes to get past.
So from spelunking in a volcano (“””volcano”””) with an octopus (“””octopus”””) in his backpack (“”” … no actually it is just a backpack), Aran is launched into the main plotline of the book as a hole appears in space. At first, given the shifting points of view for the other protagonists, I wondered if the hole was opening in different places or even different times, which would have been hellaciously cool. It was just the one hole seen from different perspectives, however – still cool though. It was a great way to introduce the characters, giving each of them a context and a set of behaviours to go along with their names and general appearances.
Alba is an iron-spined political leader (I was unable to shake the image of Chrisjen Avasarala, Secretary-General of the United Nations from The Expanse, and frankly why should I?), and Savina a hard-nosed scoundrel and killer for hire. Those are our main characters. The setting is Colorida, a solar system (I think) settled by a generation ship of humans some five hundred years previously. The stakes?
Oh, nothing much. The militant and intolerant wing of the solar system’s government is poised to coup the shit out of half a millennium of peaceful prosperity and are buying off scientists in order to make it happen (can’t image where these talented, crazy-inventive authors get their wild ideas, am I right?); the human race is suffering from a genetic disorder that kills about 10% of the population by the age of 30; and into this powder keg, the mysterious force that opened the hole in space drops a potential cure right through that shit. Along with evidence of a whole lot of hostile alien action to give the military guys great big confrontational impossible-to-ignore veiny war-boners. That’s all.
There’s a whole lot of complexity that is just nicely hinted at through this story, and I really liked it. Savina, who I should probably just rip the band-aid off and call Savini because that’s how I kept reading the name, was a member of a minority group (the Old Religion) that was the focus of some serious covert government shit … or may have just been a bunch of crazy evil fucks. We don’t know! What we do know is, they seemed to be the only people with a name for this genetic defect that has been as prevalent as left-handedness in the human population for five hundred years, and quite a lot more deadly than left-handedness … they called it “the Curse”, which – look, I just think there was a great opportunity to give this ailment a cool or interesting name, and Olson totally biffed that opportunity. Okay? I’m not deducting points for it or anything, I’m just saying.
Anyway, Savina is out for cultural vengeance against Alba which adds some nice tension as the Coloridans send up a ship to look at the portal, and all the plot threads begin to converge.
Are the aliens through the portal hostile? Were the military and their aforementioned bulging, throbbing, defcon-precum-drizzling war-boners right all along? Does the fabricated evidence go all the way down? Ah, well, that’s the question we’re all asking, isn’t it?
I know what else you’re asking:
Why are you still describing the war-boners How did this book perform on the sex-o-meter, the gore-o-meter and the WTF-o-meter? Well, let’s segue smoothly over to taking a look at that then, shall we?
Lots of tension – Aran and Istvay, Savina and the sexy, sexy space cop, the military guys and their moist, pulsating metaphorical phalli (metaphalli, if you will) – but no sex. I actually sexed the book up considerably just by sexualising the philosophy of jingoism for profit, over and over again, with increasing graphicness – to such an extent that the sex-o-meter is giving this book a Sun Tzu out of a possible Chuck Tingle.
Occasional baby-murder aside it’s Ani the land-devil, tree-dwelling betentacled monstrosity and best sidekick ever, who carries this book gloriously into the high and very solid three-flesh-gobbet range with her sucker-hooks of venomous doom. Well played. Ani is my special squirmy gal and I shall abide no backtalk or sassmouth on this, I really shan’t.
This story is rich in raw WTFium and intriguing questions in equal measure. The plot-driving hole in space is clearly the work of ancient and abiding McGuffinites and I am here for it. As for the rest … what’s the message supposed to be with Savina and the Old Religion and the propaganda and lies, the government cover-up and vengeance and all, with Alba? I don’t see where that is heading and what the reader is supposed to think – and that definitely makes it interesting! I guess the ambiguity and rewritten history and inherited grievances is the point? Adding tension to that relationship for the next book, what happens next? Hm.
I was also briefly weirded out by the part at the end when Savina meets Aran again – did they not run into each other in the tunnels on board the ship? Or did I completely misread that part? It just seemed like a kind of “it’s you” moment would have been nice.
Or, you know, just something.
My Final Verdict
This is the second book I’ve read from Olson, the other being debut Zero Day Threat. This one is, in my opinion, markedly more polished and shows the author’s voice, flair, and settled confidence – a really excellent progression in the genre, and Zero Day Threat was by no means an amateur offering. Interesting cliffhanger ending. Still not entirely certain of the message here, but our main players made it to the next leg of their journey and – what comes next? Four stars for this one!