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.
Today we’re going to talk about Zenith, The Interscission Project Book 1, by Arshad Ahsanuddin.
Our story opens on a military-esque large-scale funeral following “the Trinity Spacelines disaster”. Shitty politicians pontificate, and our protagonist Commander Martin Atkins stands by, feeling crappy and responsible for the tragedy. He’s approached, very inappropriately, and offered a job by an “aggressively ordinary man,” which I just love, incidentally. No notes.
The job: pilot aboard the Zenith, an experimental ship with new gravity drive technology (the Zenith Project, precursor to the Azimuth Project, all of which are connected to the Interscission Project which is the title of the book series) that I completely failed to understand because nobody ever pushed a pencil through a folded piece of paper. For a while I was wondering if the other potential pilots were killed off before Marty was hired, hence the Trinity Spacelines disaster … but don’t worry, all that becomes dramatically clear later on.
Speaking of aggressively ordinary … I despaired of ever telling Martin and Henry and Charles and Jennifer and Edward and Trevor and Martin’s identical twin Jacob apart, oh my God. I got there in the end (mostly … I think), but it was a challenge. Edward was blind and had holographic eyeglasses so that helped. Actually there were a couple of sets of twins in the story and ironically they were easier to distinguish than some of the others.
And this was before the time travel started.
You heard me.
What followed, for a huge proportion of the book, was a setup and character and relationship study. In hindsight I can assure you that it all came together and was worth it, but I’m not going to lie – it was a bit of a slog following all the interpersonal dramas and setting out who was who and who was who to each other. The first 42% of the book was kind of like the TV adaptation of Winx (I watched it with my daughters shut the fuck up), with a bunch of people I didn’t really care about and couldn’t tell apart having angst and issues and rivalries when the premise of the story had assured me there would be cool magic fairy girls.
That’s as harsh as I will get. Like I say, it was all worth it in the end, it all checked out and fell into place, and I think plenty of readers will appreciate the complexity of the human setup even from the start. I appreciated it in the end, and I’m obviously shit at this.
The Zenith Project’s aim was to jump to Alpha Centauri using their new gravity tech, make sure everything works, then pave the way for the Azimuth Project which would be a larger-scale colonisation effort. There is project preparation, design and training, simulations and some light (and mysterious!) sabotage in amongst the interpersonal development which – I cannot stress this enough – is all totally worth it in the end and pays off really nicely. I did make a note about 30% in that “seems like sabotage is the only way to get these characters moving”, but even that was a false start. They launch eventually though, and that’s when things start getting really weird.
Martin (after a somewhat baffling moment with Henry who I think is the CEO of the company that runs the project, wherein Henry gets Martin to promise not to take control against his orders in an emergency situation to save everyone’s lives again, why) is named Captain of the Zenith. Charles (who is dating Jennifer, but is the pined-for love of Martin’s life) is also there, he gives Trevor the “stop being a dipshit child” talk, so I don’t care about anything else, I love him. Trevor does something to fix the Zenith so there won’t be any accidents like the one that claimed … Edward’s mother, and his sight? Stella, Edward’s twin sister, forgives Trevor – but for what?
Well. I honestly don’t think I should tell you. You have to earn this shit.
Like I was saying – 42% into the story is where the Zenith actually launches, the mission starts, and it also marks the point at which I began to realise I’d come into the whole story with the wrong idea of what was supposed to be happening. The slow burn is real. The Zenith jumps to Alpha Centauri, and pops out in the middle of a space minefield. From the future.
Considering the sheer volume of wordiage devoted to interpersonal hanky panky, it was all rather sweet. We do get a big ol’ sex, but not much for the romance-novel scale we’re operating at for the first half of the novel (and I say that without bitterness, I was fine with it). I will say that Edward’s relationship with Martin is super weird, though, and I don’t mean because it’s gay. This book is registering at three and a half Marties McFly out of a possible Morty Smith on the sex-o-meter.
There isn’t much violence in this, although there are some fights and deaths and assorted sci-fi carnage. One quivering flesh-gobbet out of a possible five.
As I hinted a couple of times here, there’s time travel up in this bad boy and that turns an otherwise dry and ungripping story into a WTF spectacular any day of the week. I was super impressed with the time travel mechanic and entertained by the paradox dialogue that took place between some of the characters. Just don’t ask me to name the characters, that’s all. Five hundred and seventy-three million, eight hundred and forty-six thousand and twelve Docs Brown out of a possible Citadel of Docs.
My Final Verdict
Trevor was like the human avatar for this whole book: his behaviour and attitude irritated the absolute fuck out of me at the start, and then by the end he got his shit together and earned my grudging, perhaps even wholehearted respect. So, eyes on Trevor while reading this book? Why not, let’s go with that. I was also charmed by the similarities to the Star Trek: Voyager arc, The Year of Hell.
“I’m gonna break Alpha Centauri off in your ass.”
So yeah. Three stars? Sure, three stars. This was fun.