Just when you thought it was safe and easy to read YA sci-fi, Chimera: Universe Eventual comes in with a fresh twist. If you like page turner’s with well-timed pacing or sci-fi with large scale stakes, Chimera is the book for you. I’ll attempt to at least hint at why Chimera handles those elements (and more) of storytelling with aplomb without revealing spoilers It’s premise is that long ago, far far away (no, not that franchise), a big bad corporation on Earth didn’t exactly follow the motto “do no harm.” So all of its member families were shipped off to another habitable moon to live out their lives until the gene pool was different enough from their ancestors that they could return in a “newly diverse DNA, new chance” move. Clearly these folks believed that DNA structure is as least a large factor in your behavior. As you can imagine, it takes a while to diversify the pool amongst members of the same pool. Earth may want to rethink that strategy if future need arises. Meanwhile, back at the ranch (namely, Stephen’s Point), supplies from Earth halted, so they think that that time is up and for the last 15 years they’ve been prepping to go back by rebuilding the ship in which they arrived. Part of manning the ship is a mandatory selection process that’s designed to include the aforementioned DNA diversity as well as all the attributes you want in a crew: intelligence, reasonable risk-taking, good problem-solving and the psychological makeup to allow them to get along. Being selected is coveted among those eligible for selection; they’re fairly desperate to leave the moon and fly the ship back to Earth. Not surprisingly, not everyone will take the legitimate path to become selected and, in some cases, people will try to avoid selection. Mix into all of this a strange religion based on the ramblings of the original navigator that arrived at the moon, and you have a cocktail for some pretty interesting relationships and events.
[Full Disclosure: I received an advanced review copy for an honest review.]
Viewed from on high, there are a lot of elements in this book that we’ve seen elsewhere. There’s the tough sergeant that drills the candidates for selection. There’s the competent, independent girl with a drunk for a father. There’s the semi-crazy guy that wants to rule the world. There’s the boy who can’t seem to get it together but has talent he hides all to well and the seemingly perfect girl who has an on/off relationship with the bumbling boy with all of this whirling about in an ever-shifting dance of relationship. Of course, these relationships are also lived out within interesting family lives. All of this placed within a dystopian atmosphere. One of the really great features about this book is that, despite surface-level similarities, as soon as you get into the actual story, there are twists and nuances to all of those elements. They’re done in a new fresh way, they’re well executed, they work well for building the story, and they make sense. So while the training is reminiscent of all sorts of basic training scenes, this one’s done differently and done well. The authors also do a really nice job of juxtaposing the different storylines in the pacing between the story threads so, while you’re fully immersed and enjoying the thread you’re on (and want to see where it goes), the new thread’s equally intriguing. You’re pulled throughout the book and it’s a challenge to put down with the “real world” comes pressing for attention.
Overall the relationships are well constructed while not being trivially obvious in the way that they work out. There are even a couple of characters who inordinately difficult to know what they’ll do next. The relationships are also defined by the society in which they live. There are hierarchies, relationships among the hierarchies, and specific elements of that are based upon the mandate to return to earth. The mandate, by the way, is essentially martial law without the military, but with police (Regulators). Along with the obligatory selection process, there are other types of mandatory work assignments for folks not involved in piloting the ship that are mandatory. Permeating everything that people do is the underlying desire for survival. If the status quo were to be maintained, the colony would run out of food and other essentials.
All of the world-building, character development and relationships is harnessed to the story. For example, descriptive detail provided for the world conveys life on Steven’s Point, the moon on which they live, and its environs so that you get a distinct feel for the life of the communities, and the work being done on the Rim and on the Hydra, the ship servicing the Chimera allow you to fill the grit and chaos of the ship port in the order and restrictions of ship life. This level provides the backdrop for the events, the characters and their relationships that allow the story to make sense and progress. So, it’s exactly “right-sized” to do this well and efficiently. It is not, however, to the level of detail that you’ll bask in the world and its various facets. I suspect no one will geek-out over Chimera but will know everything about Chimera required to keep build the story. This allows the book to maintain a fluid and quick pace.
I also want to note that, simply from a novel creation process, this story presents a cohesive whole even while three people worked on various aspects of it. I don’t see a dramatic shift in tone, timing, or talk throughout the book. Given the age of the protagonists of the story, I guess it will be considered YA sci-fi. I think it’s appropriate for all ages. If you’re need your sci-fi to be hard or military based, this may not be your cup of tea; while it has elements of both, that’s not its focus. The story is first and foremost about the characters that people it and what becomes of them. So it’s not a character study per se, but characters are key. It’s not just about the events, but the events inform the relationships the characters to provide the basis for the overall narrative drive. It’s fundamentally a story about difficult times which challenge talented people and tries their character and relationships.
So, the characters are believable, the relationships are intriguing, the world building fits the story with the characters and their relationships all driving a fast-paced narrative that constantly keeps you wanting more. Really, a remarkable novel debuting this series.
What I loved:
- twists on familiar themes
- all elements come together to push forward the story
- realistic relationships and context for them
- world building in support of the story
- pacing and drive
- great ending
- cool book cover
What I less fond of:
- the idea of fractal space travel was pretty vague, in fact it was pretty much magic, albeit magic you must carefully manage and harness
- use of AI in the Chimera, spiders and their connection could have been more fully developed; that may be another way of saying that I’m really interested in seeing how they are developed in the sequel.
Anyone who happens to follow this blog knows that I have a pet peeve against poor endings, by which I mean the author simply stops writing without wrapping the book up. This does not mean tying a neat little ribbon around everyone and everything in the book, but taking time to bring some closure. This is especially an issue with books in a series. I’m happy to say that the N J Tanger team do an excellent job of wrapping up this first book. They did a nice job enticing us to read the next book (really looking forward to it) while clearly winding up the first chapter in the lives of those on the Chimera. Nicely done
A solid 4 star debut to the series. Chimera is available April 25th,2015. You can order now. I highly recommend it for your reading pleasure.