Sunday, March 10, 2013

Review: Beneath the Sky

Right up front, yes, Dan Thompson is a friend of mine.  So it’s a relief to be able to recommend Beneath the Sky to others.

Normally this isn’t the sort of thing I read.  I prefer my sci-fi a bit more swashbucklery, and while Beneath the Sky isn’t exactly hard sci-fi, its focus on both the tragedies and rewards of a first-contact situation very much have the feel of a more cerebral read.  Which isn’t to say the book is utterly devoid of derring-do (we even get an attack by space pirates), but only that the perils and opportunities of the first-contact situation remain the principal focus.

Just over a millenium ago, a religious sect called the Masonites set out to found a colony in a distant solar system.  Travelling aboard a generational colony ship (that is, one in which the colonists live for multiple generations as they travel to their destination), they expect to reach their New Providence in another 600 years.  

Of course, things back on Earth haven’t exactly sat still in the meantime.  Humanity has mastered FTL travel and settled many worlds, including the one chosen by the Masonites to be their New Providence.  The colonists’ co-religionists were principal actors in dramatic historical events.  And neither the greater mass of humanity nor the Masonite colonists are aware of what’s been happening with the others during most of that time.  

The stage is set, then, for a series of dramatic events and accidents when a survey ship makes contact with the Masonite colonists.  What follows is both tragic and happy, and Thompson does a masterful job of weaving the two emotional reactions together, creating a surprising tapestry that is, in the end, both sad and satisfying.  He’s also an extremely efficient writer, almost too much so; while all the important threads are neatly finished, I wouldn’t have minded lingering a bit on a few of them at the end.  

If you enjoy Elizabeth Moon’s Vatta books, or Weber’s Honor Harrington universe (but wish they included a more “blue collar” point of view) you’ll like Beneath the Sky.  For myself, I certainly won’t wait so long before reading Dan’s next book.

No comments: