The latest from one of SF’s brightest and most imaginative newer writers, ESCAPING EXODUS is Nicky Drayden’s 3rd novel . This time out, Drayden takes the familiar trope of colonists who escaped a doomed Earth in generational sub-light ships in search of new habitable worlds and turns it all upside down in her own brilliantly unexpected way.
The book takes place multiple centuries after that first planetary ‘exodus.’ Those Earthly refugees and their descendants never found a suitable planet, but they did encounter a herd of amazingly huge lifeforms native to deep space itself. With supplies running low, they began utilizing these creatures and eventually moved INTO the gigantic animals, becoming (in effect) parasites. They used every part of the monumental animals as complex new societies developed over the centuries. This included the matriarchal one this book focuses on. Using the space creatures like that eventually kills them, so over the centuries there have been a series of new ‘exoduses,’ leaving a dying host behind to begin the process over again with a new member of the herd.
Seske and Adalla, childhood friends now on the verge of adulthood, supply first-person narratives in alternating chapters that both tell the story and demonstrate the painful realities of the rigidly class-structured society they’ve been born into. Seske is the rebellious daughter of the present ruler, and therefore the reluctant heir to authority. By contrast, Adalla is a worker, whose job entails keeping their newest home’s vast and faltering heart functioning.
The endless cycle of using these enormous aliens to exhaustion and death, then moving on to the next of the herd and then the next is a clearly unsustainable process. The size of the herd shrinks steadily and in a few centuries the whole of the species will be extinct.
Besides the purely practical aspects, abusing these creatures is cruel–even if only a few like Seske see it. And upon discovering that the space beasts are, indeed, intelligent, her need to find a new alternative becomes doubly urgent. Mounting political and social turmoil adds another level of desperation to the search for solutions. And the two friends, who love each other far more deeply than their society considers acceptable, find themselves unwitting leaders of opposing factions when the death of the old “Matris” puts Seske on the throne and Adalla assumes leadership of angry workers.
I’m not about to list all the complexities of this novel, nor spoil how the assorted problems get resolved. I expect my describing this as ‘hard SF’ will upset some purists, as Drayden again merges bold scientific speculations with spiritual notions and images that come close to fantasy. Yet considering the bold and exquisite world-building she achieves here, hand in hand with her creation of an unsettling society at once wildly original yet unnervingly human, justifies the label in my opinion.
Looking for a fresh and unconventional, not to mention accomplished SF writer?
The award-winning Nicky Drayden is the real deal. Her publisher, aware of the rare jewel of an author that she is and anxious to promote her work, also includes sample chapters from her previous 2 books at the end of the paperback edition I read, one of which I read and reviewed a while back. Each reads quite differently, but all are intriguing and skillfully presented,
So, check her–and her works out! Highly recommended.