This is a review and analysis of the Powys Media novel written by John Kenneth Muir: The Forsaken (2003). This review was originally posted in Online Alpha, but has been adapted (slightly modified) to this webpage, and may receive additional changes for added comments at any point.
This review will start with a NON-spoiler review, then proceed to a very SPOILER-heavy analysis, followed by still somewhat spoiler-filled summarization. This has proven to be a fascinating and well-written novel, and that, together with its length, has led to the latter two (spoiler-laden) parts of this review being lengthy, as there were a number of things I wished to highlight, and points to comment on.
This was a very powerful novel, one I thoroughly enjoyed reading (and commenting on too).
There is a considerable amount of characterization, most of it seemed very consistent with prior character development, and where seemingly not consistent, nonetheless convincing (to me anyway) of why. Several characters received the most focus, but there was definitely a balance with other characters getting a good amount of time as well, and a feeling like we're getting to see a lot of perspectives. There was good character development all around, again with some surprises. A sense of Alpha as a growing society. Growing sense of camraderie (albeit some in a not so good tone, which seemed appropriate too). Some romantic interludes.
The plot is strong and engaging. The plot points, along the way, all seemed to connect well, and in only one place do I recall a question, though that may have been a fault of my reading. There were no points where I went "what?" out of not being able to follow the plot logic, and only one other point where I had to set aside a sense of doubt, and that was only on a side note that didn't really have to do with the plot anyway. For a moderately longer novel (that could have easily been like a two-part episode at least), and a series I've had quibbles about some plot points, that is actually remarkably low. It definitely pulled me along in reading (i.e. a "page turner").
There is considerable and powerful, thought-provoking thematic material. All of the Powys novels I've read so far have gotten deep into thematic ideas, and this one is filled with them, some mentioned (appropriately) in passing, and some delved into very deeply, including some that are surely familiar to many S19 fans, plus some surprises along the way, I think. Alpha's purpose in space, some consequences of past encounters. Moral choices having to be made, some of them rather murky or troubling. The nature of the universe. Patterns of life. Contemplation on potential higher patterns or powers. Even more....
On other aspects.... The detail here was very rich, and the written imagery powerful, far more than even my earlier analysis could bring up. It takes on some Y1/Y2 bridging, and does it well and in a fairly subtle, appropriate, yet convincing way. There are tragic events (some huge), action, points of humor, plenty of ironies (many thematic, some character, some plot, and a few wry or witty observerations or comments), a couple romance interludes
So far, the Powys novels have not been disappointing, but I have to say that this one really struck some chords with me, and will be re-read often, I suspect.
Overall, on a scale of 0-4 (with half-point increments), I'd give this one a 4.0 -- one I'd highly recommend. If I were to imagine it like an episode, it would definitely be one of the strongest of the series, in my opinion.
WARNING: This "Analysis" is very detailed and very much...
FULL OF SPOILERS!!!!
If you have not read the novel yet, you probably want to skip the remainder of this page and... read the novel first. Seriously... extensive spoilers follow.
Also note that though the "analysis" will progress rather "linearly" in some ways, I'll make frequent forward (and later backward) references or generalizations about the whole novel.
It was intriguing to read Prentis Hancock's Foreward, the actor talking about the character he played. Among other points of interest, one I found curious, that I didn't know, before, was that it was his own guitar that his character played in the series. More seriously, there are some interesting points here, and I won't say more.
The story itself starts with an interesting pair of quotes, one from the Bible's Genesis emphasizing man should spread across and tame the Earth, and the words from "War Games" about man being a plague. Point/counterpoint? I ask, rhetorically really, because the novel seems to be full of them (even using that pair of words at least once) -- and in a very effective way. These two quotations to start the novel itself thus prove very foreshadowing, in many ways.
I almost immediately took notice of the major divisions of the book (higher than the numbered chapters) being an Overture, Movements, and later an Interlude. This musical-style division turned out to be very apt for the story. An intriguing metaphor.
The Overture certainly starts strong, with a view of the "Space Brain" encounter from the that title character's point of view, giving some powerful background to an intriguing situation that the episode posed. Overture was indeed an appropriate word, for it was set up for the rest of the composition. In its own right, it was poignant, tragic, and very thematic. Why indeed did the Moon end up on that exact trajectory, and suffer the failures that could have prevented the collision?
A long time back, I didn't entirely know what to make of the whole "Space Brain" episode. Part of me wasn't so sure a brain in space made much sense, even in a science fictional sense, but it had intriguing elements, including communications barriers, a sense of tragedy (Alphan, Space Brain, and perhaps to others), and even the dealing with the foam to the sounds of classical music actually worked fairly well in my mind (yes, I can see the humor potential, but I also took it seriously). It was only later that I started musing more deeply on this episode's thematic content, and some of the character development, and started liking it more.
What the author did was very striking, parting much of the veil regarding this Space Brain, putting more back story to the encounter itself and at the same time, very effectively setting up for one sign of the aftermath (i.e. this story).
The First Movement also starts with death, or at least the aftermath: the burial of poor Jackie Crawford, observed from the shadows by a pregnant woman, only the second on the base.... The emotional (or some see emotionless) exterior of Helena contrasting with the emotional interior, a nice simple but powerful contrast illuminating the character well, especially in such a difficult time. (I don't recall the story saying anything about why Jackie died, but perhaps I've overlooked or forgotten something.) Regardless, restored by the aliens who pushed Jarak from Jackie and reverted him to his proper form as a baby, apparently did not mean safe. With him died some of the hope Alphans saw in him symbolically: new life -- the start of a new generation -- on Alpha.
This soon revisits another theme, with the brief but key dual reference to Alpha as "barracks" and "home" at once -- one of my favorite themes in S19. The reference to the Commander's "main mission" soon after was neatly done, of his having to protect the Alphans.
Paul is proposing a costly but potentially helpful perimeter of fixed laser batteries, and the pros and cons of the idea, discussed in command conference, were well done, along with how it started setting up what would be a growing conflict between the views of the Commander and the Controller. Interesting reference back to the attempt to take out Jarak's ships with hand-held lasers, pointing out the lack of fixed defensive weapons (some of the Eagles being mobile, but as we know, sometimes vulnerable to being grounded). Nice hints of what led to what we finally saw at the start of Y2: namely such a laser (and a second later in that season).
This seems very sensible to set up in often-hostile space, yet provoking the question of whether this is really the best thing, the resources it would take, and the greater militarization of Moonbase Alpha. In a small amount of space, this starts setting several things rolling at once, for this story and beyond.
All this is being debated as they approach a planet which shows some hopeful signs, and from which has been detected some complex transmissions that are proving difficult to translate.
It is proving difficult for Computer to translate, and Kano is being characteristically defensive about it; but he is the one who realized that the aliens singing the songs (which sound very sad to human ears) aren't just singing, but that this is apparently their primary means of communication, an astute observation more than borne out as the story progresses.
Interesting that Victor names the planet Havana. For a moment, I thought maybe Havana was the Spanish word for haven, but it is not. I guess Victor is just fond of cigars? :)
Fascinating reference to Holst's "Mars, The Bringer of War" right here in the story. Very appropriate considering it is the song playing in the series episode "Space Brain" -- right at scene where its defenses are hitting the Moon as the Moon plunges in, IIRC. Appropriate given the reprise in the Overture start of this book. This could have looked like just an in-joke, but it works very well (as can often be the case when done right, at least in my opinion).
Koenig gets a little impatient, concerned the message is a warning, but Victor sensibly argues warnings should be fairly easy to interpret, or they're not good warnings, and instead suggests it may be historical in nature. Sort of vaguely reminds me of "Alien" (or its novelization anyway), where one character suspects an alien signal is not what some of Earth authorities(?) claim it is, but might be a warning broadcast for anyone to stay away.
Discussion makes it clear there is about a 10.5-day timeframe to this encounter, in terms of Alphan capability. Even without anything translated yet, they launch on their way. The 36-hour flight becomes fairly long and somewhat boring, at least to some. Tony Verdeschi and Douglas Austin from Security are playing poker, and Victor and Helena are "huddled around the computer station like squirrels with a nut" (effective simile) -- with Alan interested in neither.
Near the end of the journey, that boredom is rapidly blown away as the first translation of information into human-style video shows startling pictures of immense and very alien yet beautiful cities, then an explosion in space and destabilization of Havana's own star, with resulting catastrophe on the planet's surface, quaking and flooding the cities into destruction, swelling the oceans with melted ice, and leaving only a small part of one continent apparently life-supporting. The aliens have transmitted songs showing their former life and the mass destruction on their planet, yet the aliens themselves are not yet pictured. The points of view in this scene are very well-written, and flow effectively, painting fast flowing imagery in the reader's mind.
It is also "sung" very well by the author in other ways as well, such as the scientific speculation by the Alphans, which struck me as believable, where the science is still strong in this science fiction.
Victor makes the first in a series of dispassionate evaluations of how the universe can change -- and bring change to worlds whether ready or not. Though a compassionate person, he does not flinch from making dispassionate hypotheses or asking equally blunt questions, showing both the scientist and the philosopher at once. Though portrayed on screen as pragmatist and philosopher, this story, as it proceeds (other scenes in other Movements) just as effectively (and even more directly at times) captures just how the two can intersect.
Whereas the pragmatism in Victor's philosophical thoughts can run deep, and the philosophical streaks in John's pragmatism can run just as deep, the pragmatism comes back sharply in Koenig's words to look for weaponry in the alien images, concerned that after suffering such a disaster, that they might look upon the Alphans as opportunistic alien invaders. In that little warning, the commander -- and the author -- almost quietly sets another major part of the stage for the rest of the story, thematically, as well as plot- and character-wise.
Meanwhile, Paul and Sandra, who are clearly a couple in this story, are musing, Paul silently over the guitar he's barely played in awhile, and Sandra over wanting to break that "horrid" little white lamp at her station in Main Mission against other main mission equipment -- but always feeling stayed by hope, something that Paul seems to have less of, as he considers what he seems to feel a repeating theme of destruction. Effective use of a couple visual elements from the series into this scene.
Lew Picard and Victor Bergman have been looking over astronomical results, and the biggest doubt remains over Havana's sun, quickly posing the question of if even settlement is possible, whether it would be wise. The timeline of destruction is unknown, however, and an effective comparison is made to the dinosaurs being thought to have suffered mass extinction after a catastrophe and making room for humanity's ancestors, already raising moral questions about settling -- albeit somewhat speculative because they don't know the reality on the ground yet.
There is a wonderful "view" of Alan's opinion on the Eagle Transporter system at the start of the chapter, giving even more background to his evident pride in being an Eagle pilot.
After the landing, as near as they can to (but still moderately distant from) the source of the alien signal/songs, all admire the beauty of this part of the planet, but Koenig soon orders them to pick up the pace and lays out the outline of major priorities: the signal, making contact, and colonization potential.
Their first encounter is with something very alien, described well in detail, then described concisely (later) as horse-spiders. (Small question: "... legs... as many as eleven or twelve." I assume the odd number was intentional, to imply that maybe the Alphans were no longer assuming that larger alien creatures had to have bilateral symmetry? Actually, probably a nice touch.) I like how the Alphans are arguing over the somewhat confusing lifeform readings this planet is giving them, not just over these creatures but in general.
Tony advises caution and then a strategic retreat, which John accepts, but the landing party are soon attacked, as well as Alan, who's minding the Eagle. Tony is clipping out "battle instructions" very well, but they are all facing overwhelming odds, and during an intense battle scene, again well "drawn" by the author, all are captured.
They awake slowly, most or all injured, Koenig awakening from a nightmare about spiders. They find themselves trapped in a tunnel, debating why the weapons were essentially ineffective, even on the kill setting.
Their "cell" is opened by a new group of aliens that remind the Alphans of turtles, though again with major differences, including no shell and upright walking (though it took me a bit of reading for the last to sort itself out in my mind), but some similarities, like the beak-like mouth, and the slow, deliberate movements. The alien and the semi-familiar -- only Koenig is getting a mysterious feeling of even greater familiarity, like deja vu only stronger.
There is a language barrier. However, the Alphans recognize these new aliens seem to communicate by song, like in the signal they received days before. The signal apparently came from these newest aliens.
Back on Alpha, Paul and especially David are now sorting through the signals even better. The second has now been translated, and reveals now, to those on Alpha, the so-called "Cyptodira" (turtle-like) people and their vaguely arachnid-like "horses." Kano realizes the first two signals (the first one lacking any sign of people but the second being mostly about that) are perhaps meant to be played together, point/counterpoint.
Once this is done, the images of destruction become even more horrifying now that artifice and intelligence are seen being destroyed together.
The landing party is escorted from their cell to something perhaps a little more hospitable but still very spartan, to mixed response by the Alphans. One priceless little bit of ironic dialog soon ensues:
"I'll never get used to aliens," Tony huffed.
"Never say never," Bergman suggested.
"Mark my words, Professor. You'll never see Tony Verdeschi cozying up to extra-terrestrials."
There are two ironies here (WARNING: the second might be seen as including a spoiler for Survival -- I'm not sure, but I'll err on the side of caution and make the warning). The first irony, arguably more obvious, is rather amusing: that Tony, some months later, would be cozying up to one particular extra-terrestrial female. The second irony, arguably a little more subtle, is the sad one, for the Professor would not see it. Tony's declaration would stand true in the end, not for the reason Tony himself is thinking, but from a more tragic cause.
Alpha is finally able to contact the landing party. Koenig orders Morrow to freeze Operation Exodus and not send a second Eagle with a security detachment -- over Morrow's objections. On Alpha, Morrow makes only a partial attempt to hide his dissatisfaction with the orders, and both Kano and Benes pick up on it. Generally not something that should happen openly in the middle of a command structure. Everyone's human, but the usually stolid Paul would, as best as I recall, keep his protests in proper context, not griping (however subtly) behind his superior's back. So that stood out.
Paul briefly starts to remember his very stern father, who had no respect for Paul's musical interest, and left Paul trying to make his father happy, even figuratively after the elder man died. Not mentioned here (or at least in this part of the book), but this is the same father who died in the Queller Drive incident with Voyager Two of S19 history, about 15(?) years before, in 1985.
Just as the Alphans have been striving to translate the Cryptodirans, the latter have been striving as well, and become able to speak to the Alphans, soon making direct but polite contrasts in their linguistic styles, that the Alphans do not speak in a musical way, while Koenig points out humans have other communication subtleties. Nicely done comparisons and contrasts over very different tendencies.
The alien speaking tells Koenig, "Your language would name me Gibbus." Curious phrasing. A reference to "gibbous," meaning humpbacked or convex at both edges? Huh, either I misunderstand or don't know another word. The planet's true name is Pyxidea. Gibbus and the others the Alphans saw earlier as they were escorted from cell to hut all give the impression of peacefulness. (In fact, during that walk, some Alphan attempts to show signs of peaceful intent or greeting got mixed reactions -- another communication barrier.)
John gives the Pyxideans condolences over the destruction of so much of their world and people, and the Pyxideans apologize over the rough treatment the Alphans were given by the Slath-Zar (earlier dubbed by Alphans as "horse-spiders"), and negotiations get a relatively fast start, with a conditional approval for settlement, but that other elders must be consulted.
Victor finds from Gibbus that the disaster happened only months before, and John gets a second, stronger dose of that strong, incomprehensible feeling of recognition of the Cryptodira.
A younger male Cryptodiran, Cullinostris (hmm, not a "your language would name me..." name? Nostris is a form of "our" in Latin, but I got no further so maybe this is more purely a Cryptodiran word?) advises the Alphans that the council is now ready for Koenig to "sing" in a cultural exchange and attend the funeral of a departed Elder. Russell and Bergman can attend as well. Cullinostris dismisses Tony, Doug, and Alan as having martial "purpose" and needing to remain under guard of the Slath-Zar. This will only get Doug stewing further....
A young female Cryptodiran, Annulata, appears as something of a guide for the Alphans allowed to move more freely. As a word, "Annulata" sounded vaguely astronomical at first, but a little looking showed this word appears in a number of species names from various orders, and apparently means ring-like or articulated, as if also implying a being able to move more freely. I don't know if my interpretation is correct or if this is coincidence, but this seems to match the descriptions, from Helena's POV, of the alien's relatively graceful movements?
Annulata shows how the Slath-Zar are actually generally peaceful, domesticated creatures and can be sung directions (by a "conductor" appropriately enough) -- including whipping them up into an attack frenzy on rare occasions (outright war being well in the past for them). The singing of directions is interesting, and will be helpful to the Alphans later.
Annulata also mentions the same "totem" that Gibbus mentioned earlier, continuing to raise Victor's curiosity, despite statements from the Cryptodira advising patience. With Helena's help, he slips away to check it out, again showing the intensity of his curiosity and his tendency at taking chances, both of which were seen in plenty in the series itself. Characterization of Victor in this novel felt pretty much spot-on, constantly reminding me of Barry Morse's portrayal.
Meanwhile, John is talking to Cryptodira children (Fledglings) of Alphan and Terran history, including of music, older and newer, and some of their meanings to humans (classical, folk, jazz, rock-n-roll), and himself again gets more of a picture of how the Cyptodira convey almost everything, including math and programming, via song ("All of life is one song, Commander Koenig" one Fledgling states -- very nice). They even believe this is the case throughout the universe. Interesting.
Victor follows the trail to the "totem", which is very different in form from the organic technology of the Cryptodira. One (Hurum) approaches, unaware of Victor, adjusts some controls, sings a sad song (part of which Victor records and later sends to Alpha), and appears disappointed when there is no response. Sad. Hurum leaves, Victor takes a closer look, and recognizes the language on the controls!
Doug Austin, in an earlier scene and now even more so is growing more impatient with the "plodding" Cryptodira, and wanting some military action. Austin was an infantryman in World War III, and talks how they didn't just wait around for action. Tony is more pragmatic, has apparently assessed the peaceful tendencies more clearly, and is again the voice of calm to Austin. There is some very nice threading of a Y2 character and other Y2 backstory into this Y1-timeframe story, and one starts getting a sense of some of Verdeschi's personality traits Koenig presumably later sees as valuable in a new officer, later on, besides what appears to be a generally good performance even on the losing side of the earlier battle against the Slath-Zar. In other words, nicely done character development for Tony so far.
John attends a funus (funeral) for what turns out was the "lifecycle companion" of Gibbus, reminding John of the burial of his wife, and other losses since then. Again, though, he seems to know bits about the Cryptodira that he should not.... Suddenly, he makes a connection via memories of Kelly, who died during the Space Brain encounter. John's mind had been briefly linked to Kelly's via "symbiosis" and got a dose of high-density information including... about the Cryptodira.
Again, there is very well-written imagery here, including in the realization of how the Space Brain protected and nutured growing life and intelligence, even to keeping Pyxidea's somewhat unstable sun under control. He sees other races that the Brain was protecting, regardless of whether they seemed gentle or xenophobic to John. Even a protoplanet "hidden" in a metaphorical cosmic "weather belt" (presumably a reference to "Tora" in Y2's "Seance Spectre"), or keeping space warps under control!
In the failing efforts of Brain and Alphans, the Moon tore through the Brain and destroyed it, and had "irrevocably transformed" the whole area. This only served to further reinforce, very vividly, what was in the Overture, and the theme, one of my favorites, of the Moon and its people as (often unwitting) agents of transformation -- in this case showing what appears to be a much darker version of this.
Victor and John, both excited by their discoveries, soon share them, for Victor's recognition of the written language of the totem was that of the same hierglyphic-style symbols the Space Brain transmitted. Victor has also received, from MBA, a translation of Hurum's unanswered singing through the totem, and it is poignant and core: "Why have you forsaken us?" Koenig had, even just after the Brain's death, speculated of the potential havoc that might result, and now the are standing on a world touched by what turns out to be the truth of that. Not that the Space Brain had intentionally forsaken them, but the Cryptodira don't know directly of its death, only directly of its absence and the effects of that.
Those two, and Helena, all touch on some of the deepest themes in the series, of their general lack of control over the course of the Moon, yet how humanity modifies the world around it, and that even human mistakes (seemingly implying Breakaway as well, I think) can change things, "sometimes even benefit our cause..." yet also wondering if Alphans don't have control over the Moon's course, then "Who does?" In the space of a couple of pages, many major themes are raised, very well. Even more follows, on a very different course, for Austin is impatient with the lofty discussion of theory, pointing out they are in fact on a world that other than a few concerns seems perfect for human settlement.
However, Gibbus, who has been one of the Alphans' staunchest allies, is dying. Gibbus thinks it is what they call "the enemy within" that has already been doing some damage to them since their major disaster.
Dr. Russell offers to help Gibbus on the Eagle, and some hours later, an initial diagnosis reveals a zoonotic disease, reaction to a bacterium that has jumped across species. It is something generally treatable in humans but causing devastating effect within the Cryptodira, and which Helena fears is already well beyond the point of containment, and she is uncertain if it is treatable.
They have nothing like medical doctors, not really having faced much if any disease before their catastrophe, which I found interesting, as it usually gets me to wondering how such a situation can arise. Another form of engineering good conditions for higher life by the Space Brain? A somewhat different balance of lifeforms where there are simply few disease vectors and larger lifeform physiologies gain more control over local diseases to the point the latter are wiped out but the surviving descendents' physiologies soon don't have to fight diseases at all and the immune system atrophies? Some other factor? I don't think this novel spelled it out, that I can recall, though my first thought does seem closer to the Space Brain theme, I guess. It is not an uncommon device in science fiction, either, of portraying some largely or fully disease-free worlds and/or peoples.
Meanwhile, Austin is thinking military take-over, having seen, not long before, the gathered Cryptodira numbered only about 250, less than the approximately 300 Alphans. (I was a little surprised he was there and had to back up to see that.) Tony points out the obvious flaw to the military idea: having to face the Slath-Zar, and tells Doug he should hope for their ally's recovery, at which Doug points out that Tony has "no love of aliens," to which Tony replies that he has "no love of war either." More effective character development.
Helena diagnoses a second, longer-running problem that has been slowly compromising the Cryptodira, even before the Moon's arrival into Pyxidea's system. The planet's earlier catastrophe already doomed the aliens, even before the Alphans brought the bacterial infection. It is a double blow, and as if to "prove" the point, Gibbus dies at this point.
Tragedies are compounding on top of tragedies on top of a prior sequence of disasters in this novel, and it is all very effective and well-written, directly as a theme and via the plot and characters, human and alien. Helena has powerful scenes in this novel, as does John feeling at the point of these, as commander during the failed attempt to interpret and avoid the Space Brain, and all that he is seeing now.
The medical problems themselves seem very convincing to this non-expert, detailed yet well-explained and seemingly consistent -- and again tragic in a smaller but sad way, for the Cryptodira, even as they realize they have to prepare for death, are robbed of their "voice" (their songs, of course) by the most recent illness.
Commander Koenig is left with the terrible duty of having to lay out what the Alphans know, to the Cryptodira. Hurum does not take the information well, and whips up the Slath-Zar into a killing frenzy; but the Alphans, already aware of how this is done, defeat this, only for Hurum to attack in another fashion. This too is frustrated, by a group of Fledglings led by Cullinostris and Annulata coming to protect the Alphans, apparently finding Hurum's actions horrifying and perhaps not wanting one of the last actions of the Cryptodira to be revenge killings over unintentional actions.
Annulata does, however, request, in a haunting manner, that the Alphans leave the planet, and never return, even after the Cryptodira are dead. This request is to set in motion quite a few consequences, setting up a black choice where neither option is palatable, where either course has moral implications....
The Third Movement of the novel starts with what I later realized was a rather key reprise, a scene from Paul's teenage years, where he's been accepted to a performing arts scholarship, which Christopher Morrow, his father, quickly declares, in different words, as useless, and promptly burns the letter. Paul tries to retrieve it but Chris taunts with "Don't play with fire," which to me echoed not just with the immediate fire or physical fires in general, but probably the elder Morrow as well. His father declares that Paul will one day fly a Voyager ship, and does not mince his words regarding his disdain for Paul's musical pursuits, what working in space sciences or for Ernst Queller can be like.
Paul did not end up flying a Voyager ship, and some time later, one, with Queller's infamous drive system, ended up killing Christopher and 200 others. Luckily, Paul was visiting relatives and his mother elsewhere after having left Christopher.
Paul's memory-driven dream ends, and he awakes to find Eagle 1 is returning, there is no immediate commencement of Operation Exodus. He still muses about whether this will be a chance for a new life, away from chains of command and free to raise a family. This, the dream, and the earlier visible dissatisfaction from Paul, is, in retrospect, rather effective groundwork for what is to follow, soon and later.
Paul is soon taken aback, however, by the apparent decisions of Koenig, and even of the delay of having a Command Conference or waiting until the next morning for it.
John and Helena talk briefly. "Misery loves company" and "we make quite a pair", troubled with the circumstances but clearly taking comfort from each other's presence and words. She has to see it through to trying to find a cure, even if only about 48 hours seems to remain -- a high hurdle.
There is also a wonderful part of a scene, where Victor thinks about how he has really belonged out in space, among the Alphans, when "so many of his age ended up useless and forgotten" and again, as always, felt so alive. This is very much what I came to perceive about the character, for a long time now, that it is great to see it echoed so effectively. He begins turning to the same Pyxidean problem, but as usual, starts drawing on some interesting sources of information.
Helena comes into Medical Center, and Tanya is there regarding something not entirely revealed, and a pending decision. Not hard to guess what's going on given the mention of an unnamed pregnant woman watching Jackie Crawford being buried, early in the novel....
Dr. Russell has already been busy, with a plan that could potentially save some of the Cryptodira, but it is "elaborate" (as Dr. Mathias comments), and in the end she realizes (and to a degree already knew) that it could take virtually everything of Alpha's medical resources, may not help at all with the reaction to the bacteria, and doesn't even address the other problem -- the one that has been slowly killing them for months.
Meanwhile, Tony is musing on how Security's work has greatly increased since Breakaway, not just from external threats but internal too, as Alpha has become its own self-contained society. Very nicely and concisely stated. He comes upon several people snickering about the aliens' fate, dissatisfaction with Koenig's decision, and half-joking about stealing an Eagle. Two are from Security, including Austin, and he immediately chews out those two, putting them on report and dispersing the rest. Mark Sanders and Sally Martin protest that it was only "blowing off steam." He believes it was jesting, but is still seething about it. Very effective scene.
John is up in the middle of the night as well, tormented by memories of disease, his friends Sam and Tessa, and the current situation. Helena calls him up, and after a little talk and bantering, it is clear they want each other's company -- very much so.
Paul is also still awake, somewhat to Sandra's irritation, obsessing over the reports from Havana, and starting to echo (in my mind) his "Last Sunset" self (more on what I mean, later in this page).
In the same short scene, there is mention of the personal computer and the Internet. Curious. I've long assumed that in S19's "universe," that the PC never really rose, or at least not to anywhere near as much prominence, as it did in the real 1999, much less networking of PC's or massive networks such as the Internet. Production of S19 pre-dated the PC, and the Internet was barely known outside limited circles. While SF series can certainly "miss" such big things of course, yet not necessarily exclude them either, S19's universe really looked like "big metal" (mainframes and/or supercomputers) remained dominant. So I actually find this fleeting reference feeling a little out of place to me, though I realize others may simply see it as a case where perhaps big metal remained dominant in some industries and on the Moon, even while PC's and networks cornered other markets.
John wakes up and gets to admire Helena preparing for the day, but with troubled thoughts of the day ahead. Pyxidea is shrinking into the distance, adding more tension to the Command Conference. The various reports add up to a planet that could be colonized, but not without some concerns, such as the unstable sun, and the moral implications of taking over a "cemetery" the Alphan's unwittingly created, especially after the not-yet-dead denizens demanded the Alphans not return.
The lines get even more drawn, Paul vs. John, with most lining up behind the Commander, much to Paul's consternation. Paul declares John's stand "moralistic nonsense," especially since the history of John's own country is filled with similar transitions of peoples, sometimes violent. (Curiously, no one directly rebukes this point with the simple argument that this not justify other such cases, though it is somewhat inherent in the arguments that follow.)
The arguments and examples flow, richly, in the text (as in much of my analysis, I'm only capturing aspects of this, especially here). On my looking back on it, it seems that while Paul started with his argument, he argues himself even further into belief that Havana should become the Alphans' home.
When I first read the novel, part of me was surprised yet not surprised by Paul's actions to follow, but as I thought about it more, then analyzed it further here, the groundwork is fairly well-laid, by his behavior (even if some of it was hallucinogen-induced) in "The Last Sunset" and the sketches of Paul's youth in this book, and is propelled further in this scene, that Paul takes a stand, sticks to it, and perhaps becomes even more convinced he is correct.
Paul's arguments are for naught, though, for while John cannot "unwrite" the end of the Space Brain, this world is "tainted" and with an unstable sun. He is determined to take a moral stand. The earlier decision of a suspended Op. Exodus becomes permanent, as it is now outright cancelled, even though he too wonders if they are "running out of Kano's habitable planets" (nice reference). Helena states something I've long taken as a key theme of the series, of the Alphans struggling against not just the obvious odds, but in their fights, to avoid devolving into some mere semblance of themselves. In this context, as in many others, it seems again like another test, not of Alphan mettle here as Alphan mind and morals. Absolutely wonderful set up of both sides of the problem, of cogent thoughts mixed with some some stubbornness, determination, short-sightedness and long-sightedness, exasperation at "fate" or the universe or each other, and so on. Excellent writing.
Paul is upset, makes little effort to hide it, and more or less quits on his shift, a first. Not in character, but the novel and the character are right up front realizing that. He recalls the "don't play with fire" scene from his pre-college days, and this is clearly no accident in timing on the part of Paul's mind or the author's part. John Koenig is, in Paul's mind, compared in no favorable terms to Christopher Morrow. I don't think the novel brought it up again at this point, but I recall Paul, early in the novel, still feeling as if some(?) of his actions are in an unconscious attempt to please his now-late father, and in that light, it seems he's fighting back, almost as if he's tempted to do what he apparently never could before, leave the "intractable" father (figure) behind.
I'm no psychologist, and maybe my interpretation of the scene(s) is just pop psychology, yet in the immediacy of the moment and the scenes, it really does seem fairly convincing. The Paul of "Last Sunset" (minus the mushrooms here), or the rebel (well, sort of) that he was starting to be in childhood to be blocked by his father, seem to start coalescing, in the frustration of the months since Breakaway, of worlds left behind, and after the heat of argument over this latest.
Tanya appears at Paul's door, and there are echoes of the great "share the music" scene from "Black Sun" here, but also very different at the same time, for she reveals to Paul that she's pregnant (different father), does not love the father, loves the child, yet "couldn't bear to see it end up like Jackie Crawford." (I'm still missing exactly what ended up leading to the latter's death, or maybe it is purposefully left as some unnamed dreadful factor.) She strongly feels Alpha is not a place for children, even with the potential to start permitting some new births in the near future. Only a planet can be a home, she feels. Paul offers to talk to the commander again.
We then jump to a fascinating scene of John and Victor talking philosophically about their experiences in space, their longing to leave big questions behind to raise the next generation and leave the questions to them, the urge to explore in humanity that seemed completely absent from the Cryptodira, Alpha's unlikely survival at several turns, the death of the Space Brain, and whether there is a degree of manipulation in some or much of this.
Victor is often blunt here, presumably still feeling the suffering of some but looking at it from a different place, so to speak -- logically, philosophically, as objectively as he can, acknowledging that perhaps the universe is cruel even if it seems to prefer life to flourish every where to which it can get itself. Numerous comparisons are made (inc. the short time from first controlled flight to landing on the Moon -- one of my long-time favorites), comparisons to Biblical passages and people, as well as talk about Alphans (and perhaps especially John) being "tested" in some manner (something I've always thought a curious possibility).
There is even talk, of course, about whether all this discussion points to an imperative to take Pyxidea as their own or whether that would be a "reward for murder," whether John's choice is the right one or is a sort of defiance against the universe, and yet another bleak comparison.
It is an absolutely fascinating, highly thematic discussion tying much of the novel together, and to much of the series, and a number of points in the series to each other. I'm not going to even try to get into all of it (at least not in original posting, but perhaps later), and in part because part of me feels like it is an even deeper layer of "spoiler" that I really don't want to spoil. It is "simply" seven of the most fascinating and masterfully-written pages I've read in some time.
Meanwhile, Sandra is reprising her standing with the commander in the Command Conference, and feeling, at an even deeper level than the reader first realizes, that Pyxidea is a graveyard of a world that they -- or at least she -- could not live on with a feeling of peace. She receives a communication from Pyxidea, Annulata in particular, who looks extremely sick and reports that most have died and the rest are not far behind. She makes one final request, that the Twelve Stanzas -- Pyxidea's communicated "coda" that the Alphans received before further contact was made -- be preserved by the Alphans, used, and conveyed to others, that the Pyxideans not be entirely forgotten. It is clear they are now completely beyond help, and Cmdr. Koenig advises Dr. Russell can now cease her efforts. It is a very tragic scene.
Paul approaches John with new arguments, not all based directly on Tanya's situation, though tangentially (and vaguely) touches on that too, and John listens but remains resolute. Paul meets with six other Alphans that Tanya has gathered, including Doug Austin (the Security guard who was on the exploration team) and they have similar goals, to get to the planet, but by different means than Paul is thinking. Not trying to convince other Alphans, create a grassroots movement and convince the Commander, but what Paul bluntly calls mutiny. Lots of mincing of words -- and each side declaring it as such. Very well written, again.
Paul is a man of loyalty, and says so himself, and seems to feel Luke Davis and Anna Farro took the wrong path, but now finds himself in the middle of a sort of breakaway discussion himself. He tries to bluntly refuse the new leadership role being pushed at him, but Tanya calmly gets him to stop and think about it. She contrasts distinctly and very effectively with the aggressive attitudes Austin has shown before and now about the situations, and it this is probably a key point too.
Koenig has of course read between the lines of some of Morrow's discussion not long before, and bursts into Medical demanding some answers. He gets some, partially from reading between the Russell's lines and partially from her deciding to give some less confidential information about the case, and echoing some of his feelings. Very much in line with what I would expect of both characters. He confronts Paul and after some resistance, gets the name of Tanya as the pregnant woman. John decides to reconsider, and does so from some different angles, but still reaches the same conclusion. At this point, Paul has had enough.
He throws in with the mutineers, accepts the leadership role among them, but with conditions, including not to enlist more people (he is concerned about Alpha's continued viability) or commit violence. Tanya predicts John will force Paul's hand, while Paul counters that if everything is planned almost to the minute, there will be no opportunity. (He's forgetting about "The best laid plans..." saying; but yet even here, I could see Paul thinking he could make it work.)
It is in the way he quietly decides but still feels sick about the decision, and the conditions he attaches, that together with the parts I pointed out before that makes this 'work', character-wise, better than I expected, and even better the more I think about this. He still retains partial loyalty to John and Alpha, that he doesn't want to do outright harm to others. Maybe he's fooling himself, but that is the approach he takes. He undertakes it with his usual quiet, and there's almost a symmetry here, of his words trying to convince John shifting to what somehow feels like a similar tone as he shifts to mutinous plans.
He's had something of a rebelious streak for a long time, suppressed by his father, by working within the confines of command structures, by taking orders and sometimes expressing concerns but backing down out of obedience to a commander. Yet during "Last Sunset" we saw how he was prone to wanting to separate from authority, to found a new outpost, and how he can turn into a prophet in the wild, so to speak. Yes, there was a "mushroom" at work here, but was it working on an existing crack, widening it and bringing it to the surface, however temporarily and from external influence? Was it all just the mushroom, or was there some pre-disposition? I've long found Paul's "Last Sunset" scenes to be key for the character, and I think The Forsaken may be building off of that, while the novel also laid out further childhood details for Paul. I don't think it is coincidence that this book's Third Movement started out with such a childhood reprise. It is an important point.
That said, on first reading, I was still feeling like, could that really be Paul? Could he really do that? Mutiny? Yet part of me was convinced quickly, based on what I saw in "Last Sunset," and partly from recalling what was written earlier in this book. Plus, the more I've analyzed this, the more it just seems to hold up.
This character/plot development, when overused, could really do damage to the rest of the characterizations by making readers/viewers think that maybe there are not any good guys at all, when many fans want there to be. Yet to have a key character shift into this does represent a twist, and does give that tone of "well, if he could..." but without becoming an overwhelming thought, at least not to me.
Very, very interesting. Treading a thin line, I think, probably starting with that crack in "Last Sunset," showing that maybe it goes back even further, of wanting to break away from authority but never being able to muster it. In addition, he's been prone to outbursts before, but usually falls back in line. Now, at this moment, he finds fresh frustration over that sort of situation pinning him again, and instead of just falling back in line, switching the other direction. It is startling, yet not something completely out of the blue, and I think, it actually works very well.
In any case, Paul, after Tanya points something out, realizes he has to leave Sandra behind. She would never understand his actions, and never accept them -- and from prior scene fragments from Sandra's point of view, it is clear he is correct. That will not make it any easier for either.
There is a brief, gentle, tender, but also introspective and blunt Interlude in the novel at this point, which itself effectively makes a few points at once, and Paul, in his mind, starts taking his difficult leave of her.
The Fourth Movement of the novel begins with the plans in place, the timing laid out. Timing regarding the planet, Eagle speed, when key people that might resist them would probably be out of the way. It starts with an unauthorized Eagle 4 boarding, and Paul, ready in Main Mission, sends two Security personnel -- both involved in the plans -- there, and no one is the wiser. Tanya is identified as being aboard, but the fact John knows about her condition and speculates this may be why she's not being level-headed now, actually serves as a minor distraction, a sort of fractional "explanation" that perhaps hides how much deeper this runs.
They make contact with Tanya, and she claims she has hostages, who are actually the remaining mutineers. All well planned, and the plan is going well for Paul, with no one outside his group any the wiser. He even leaves Main Mission to in effect negotiate with her. Except... the first wrench gets thrown into the plan by John, who indicates he's also sending Helena.
Tony comes storming into Main Mission, very puzzled about something that soon grabs the commander's full attention: Paul paged the very two same Security personnel that Tony had recently put on report for insubordination over their earlier "jokes" (before the mutiny actually started coalescing). Paul should have known that -- should have told John too. It doesn't add up, then starts adding up to something John doesn't like. Then "the other shoe dropped": Koenig orders Morrow's commlock canceled, but Kano cannot comply, due to some key reprogramming by Morrow.
A pre-recorded message is found, and it sounds almost more sad than anything, and more or less asks that they not be interfered with, that this is democracy and fate, not mutiny. John doesn't accept that, and feels it the sting of betrayal. Alan seethes, calling it sabotage. Yet Kano reports that there are still lines to Alpha's essential systems, and such, and John realizes Paul is trying for a clean get-away with little or no direct damage, and thinks maybe this can be used against Paul, to take the action Paul would not: shut down Alpha. Morrow soon discovers this, which they had not anticipated, that Koenig would go this far. Just as bad, Helena finds him. She does not realize there is mutiny, and he ends up with her following him but none the wiser -- for awhile.
Tanya knows of Koenig's action now as well, and is nervous because Paul is late to the Eagle. The pilot wants to take off, but she harshly rebukes the idea. The scene also reveals that Doug Austin, on board Eagle 4, is the father of her child, from a one-night stand (a little later, it becomes clear Austin has more feelings about it than that, however).
Eventually, Paul's actions and almost frantic tone, trying to get to Eagle 4 for his claimed reasons, don't make any sense to Helena any more, and she pulls a stun gun on him -- but in the end cannot act due to circumstances. Meanwhile, John, Tony, and Alan dash across the lunar surface in spacesuits, trying to head off Paul before Eagle 4. The two groups and the security guards on Eagle 4 converge in or near the boarding area, a few people at a time, fights breaking out that result in injuries on both sides, including Alan being stunned unconscious.
Paul and Tony battle in Helena's presence, and Helena thinks it is all crazy, and demands answers from Paul. "People change" is one part of it. There, I think, is another of the author's points regarding Paul. Paul ends up stunning Tony, and again shows regret, but Helena "fires a dirty look in his direction." Again, the play of the various points of view is very well done. I am finding all the characterizations quite believable.
John, on the surface, sees the boarding tube retracting, and tries to get into the Eagle from the outside, even as Victor orders the pad be brought down. Except... hydraulics fail, and the pad is suddenly in free fall. The overhead doors start closing as well, but Paul brashly shoots them out with the Eagle's retractable laser, despite the danger of falling debris. The scene unfolds in free fall.
However, reading it, there was something distracting me: the timing. A lot of scene detail unfolds, a lot of actions by various people, but it all starts adding up to feeling like a lot of time. Even taking into consideration the "things seem to slow down in intense situations" phenomenon, also realizing that the lift is tall and is probably at lunar gravity rather than in artificial gravity, and even though the intensity of the scene was pretty strong (i.e. engaging), the timing started nagging at me halfway through, and I've not been able to shake it, though I let it go under "suspension of disbelief."
Regardless, Koenig ends up inside at the moment of impact, bounced up and then down on "eagle firma" (very nice, but I lightly wonder if perhaps it should have been "aquila firma" :)
It ends with a damaged Eagle, John on board, semi-shellshocked mutineers, and Paul holding a laser to Alan, a hostage taken in one of the fights. Paul looks desperate, and demands to know why John couldn't just let this one Eagle and eight people go. The response is exactly what I expected from the Commander, almost to the words: "Because of what happens the next time...." If more and more keep following the same example, that could be the end of discipline and of Alpha. Discipline has to be maintained, the commander's judgment has to be the final decision. Paul still admits to some understanding of this in general, but remains determined in the current situation, yet also states he's only taken enough supplies for the trip, that the eight will take their chances on that.
The Eagle can still take off, and it can either be with John and Alan as hostages, or with Paul's offer for the two of them to just get off the Eagle and let it go. Stuck, John backs down, much to his own difficulty. However, he has a plan to chase them down. Obvious echoes of pursuers sent after Luke and Anna's Eagle after their actions, but here, Eagle 4 is surrounded right above Alpha. The time is costing those aboard Eagle 4 in trying to get to Pyxidea, but it seems pretty clear Paul may take his chances, and then what does John do?
John's back in Main Mission, his rage calming into a return to rationality. Looking around, he reads silent words from his people, from "Sandra. Victor. Helena. Tony. Kano...." He "heard their tune" (fitting nod to one of the thematic backdrops in this novel) that this should be considered over, that if he kept going, he'd be "like poor Hurum" and in this case threatening more lives, including of Paul and Tanya and an unborn child. He orders the other Eagles back.
Paul calls Main Mission. John responds flatly, but Paul's main message is for Sandra. She gently but firmly rebukes his actions, but nonetheless gives him a "Godspeed," which he returns to her and all of Alpha. Rather haunting, in a way.
Paul has to push the Eagle, and timelines are now uncertain, especially with somewhat minimal supplies. Suddenly, in some ironic but very appropriate symmetry, he feels more like his former commander than before. They reach the planet, and the colonists (as the text is already properly calling them) find it looks peaceful, but which they know is the "peace of death [..and..] of extinction." They feel they are starting anew; but first, they go to the Cryptodira encampment, and confirm it is indeed the worst: no survivors. Paul and Tanya are horrified... and respectful, even holding the dead hand of Annulata. One of Paul's first orders on the planet is that their homes, and whatever technology therewithin, will be left untouched, and even one person not quite comprehending the order still acknowledges it.
They at least get something of a decent start in those ways. As they turn to start figuring out to otherwise do in what has been earlier compared to Eden, with some apparent optimism, we find there is perhaps a metaphorical snake in this Garden too, however: Paul and Tanya hold hands, and Doug Austin looks on with clear jealousy....
Back on Alpha, Tony is promoted to fill Paul's role in Main Mission. There is a last communication from Pyxidea, and some quiet words exchanged, with Paul saying he understands John doesn't approve but hopes he can eventually come to accept it, and indicating it is what he had to do. From Paul's POV, there is another passing thought of his father -- again showing how some of this goes a long way back in Paul's personality. The tone stays quiet but awkward, but John does give a wistful sort of farewell, just before the connection is lost.
The novel ends with a Coda that shows the Moon is approaching an area teeming with planets, the first estimated about three months away (Psychon?). Koenig has decided to go forward with the large laser batteries Paul had been backing early in the novel. He has also started some initial steps for a new, more defensive placement of the command corps: Command Center. Victor is not so sure about the idea (or the name), but John feels that perhaps something in Koenig's indirect connection to the Space Brain, and given recent events, that upcoming encounters may be no easier. It ends on a slightly ironic/amusing note, of Victor thinking there is one "terrible" flaw in Command Center (it's a minor thing, but Victor's tone is understandable).
The following summarizes Character, Plot, and Theme -- the first by character(s) -- and also includes some Miscellaneous points.
Well, there's plenty here. Let me just go character by character first. There's a lot about many characters, and there won't be much of a particular order, except... I have to start with central character in the story, of course....
Where to start? Well, what about the heart of Paul's character development here. This one took an established character, seen and heard in virtually every episode of Y1, and sent him down an unexpected path, namely of a mutiny, and in effect making himself the leader of a second Alphan colony.
Brave character development, but does it work? I think it does. I've long seen "Last Sunset" as showing what I took as a fault line in his character, of wanting to get away from being under authority. I didn't think it was all hallucinogen-induced there, but that the latter enhanced some sort of predisposition. This novel backed up even further, showing key scenes from his childhood, of a sort of rebellious streak burned to some degree by his disdainful father, and of later Paul still feeling like he now frequently working to live up his the elder Morrow's ideals, almost like they're still not entirely his own. Groundwork was laid down via reprise, and reminders dropped in at a few points. Subtle, but effective, I think.
Yet loyalty is still important, and Paul is shown as almost just sort of backing into the mutiny. By that I don't mean really by accident or lack of choice, but just how it sort of arose around and within him, differently in each part. He did not initiate the idea, and he at first rejected it, but then, not without sick feelings, changed his mind, yet still tried to go about it with a lot of care to try to make it a clean and undamaging get-away. He is clearly troubled about it yet has decided it has to be this way.
It is a striking balance on a rather thin line, that could have easily fallen flat, gone overboard, or otherwise not worked. I think Muir pulled it off well.
John is every bit the commander we've known through the series. He clearly (to me anyway) feels like he's stuck having to hold up the whole Moon on his shoulders, and that it is sometimes a wearying weight (Alpha's Atlas?). Not comfortably, not without angst, yet decisive, but still able to rethink things, and take advice from his people. What comes through very strongly is his horror as he starts to realize the unwitting role Alpha has played in this area of the universe, how the death of the Space Brain has doomed the people of another world and perhaps damaged more.
His discussions with Victor are very powerful, and his stand is very much like him, and with realization what they passing up but of wanting to take a stand -- but with no clear feeling on what that decision may bring them.
His relationship with Helena is nicely illustrated at several points, sometimes seriously and sometimes with a levity that works very well.
His interaction with all the other characters seemed very much in character, familiar but further built on in good ways.
There are very effective references back to the prior Resurrection novel (also from Powys Media) of some of the things that happened to John in that story. This is very appropriate, and nicely done. He was, of course, one of the three (IIRC) key characters in that story.
So many of the scenes involving Victor were very powerful and thematic. I already pointed out the wonderful bit of how he feels Alpha is his place, where he should be. He proves it too, waxing philosophical, in important ways, about so many of the recent events, but over so many events since Breakaway. He tries to be comforting, but can be blunt and even brutally objective too.
He is very much like the grandfatherly figure for Alpha, wise, gentle, a teacher, not afraid to tell it like it is or might be, and feeling he is in the right place, where he was meant to be.
Sandra was not in as many scenes as some of the other characters, but still had a number of scenes and is still important to this novel. I think the portrayal of this character was excellent and well balanced, showing both the shock and quiet strength she's shown at different times throughout the whole series. The author avoided using her just for simple reaction as happened in some episodes, or of her going into total shock, yet shows that she is very surprised and deeply troubled by Paul's betrayal, that she feels disbelief, doesn't understand but doesn't want to see him hurt.
Her past is looked at in the form of one particular incident that sheds light on her strongly not wanting to settle a cemetery of a planet. She sides with Koenig over this, and curiously, this seems to make it a little "easier" for Paul to leave her, not over direct anger, but realizing she won't understand his actions. That their relationship had stalled (as posited by this novel) is brought up, and in a sensible manner, I think.
I've sometimes struggled with the character of Helena in Y1, and that included with one of the Powys novels. Here, though, I had no such problems. She shows what I think were the best and clearest aspects of her Y1 portrayal, but also manages to show the character is in transition. She's strong, perceptive (especially regarding Paul when making their way through the Travel Tube), and her reactions seem spot on for Y1 but also for characteristics seen more often in Y2. Then again, maybe I'm reading in too much; but regardless, I thought the portrayal just worked in this novel.
She's left dealing with a lot of growing tragedy, and does her best, with a mix of determination, trying to go above and beyond what can realistically be done, but seeing the relentless logic of futility at one key point too, as much as it drains her.
Tanya's scenes are actually rather few, but very pivotal. Her unintended pregnancy and thoughts about what she wants and what she might do end up being one of several factors leading to the mutiny. She does effectively take some authority here, bringing together the rest of the mutineers, convincing Paul (which was appropriately not perfectly easy either), taking some control on Eagle 4 while Paul was still not present. She methodical, not cruel or anything; but she's made up her mind and goes forward.
Giving Tony some very visible roles in this story lay a lot of good groundwork for him being an officer by the start of Y2. His characterization is spot on, and his comments about aliens, distrustful but not of hatred, hit the right note (and as I pointed out in my early in the Analysis, create an excellent double irony at one point). Whether it was in good (re)actions even in a losing battle on the planet's surface, or elsewhere, he is portrayed as showing his mettle and value, even with his flaws, and I think the author convincingly shows why John elevated him. The tone is just right for the character in this novel, and even seems to adjust for fact this is a sort of "prequel" for the character in that he's not an officer yet, but shows leadership capacities well, especially in reining in Austin on the planet, and him and others later on.
As characters (more on plot and thematics later), the Cryptodira were effectively "drawn" (or should I say "sung" :) here. Building new characters is not a trivial task, nor is building a whole alien civilization, but it was very well done.
From their multiple tragedies, their feeling forsaken, their communication of virtually everything via song (and extending it as a metaphor for the higher-level structure of the book), details of their appearance (though I was a bit foggy at first if they were bipedal, but that was probably just something I missed initially). They seemed alien, yet ones the Alphans could (and did) start to understand. Plus: their relationship with at least one of the other species on their planet; aspects of their technology (what was left anyway); their haunting (and complex) multi-part message into space; their children; their lack of exploration (something that figured into some of the thematic discussions among Paul, John, Victor, and others).
Several alien characters stood out, especially Gibbus, Annulata, Cullinostris, and Hurum, effectively demonstrating differences from within the commonalities of their culture.
A new character for this novel, I believe (unless he was also mentioned in Resurrection), he is drawn effectively, as a character with little patience for niceties, too much of a leap-before-looking personality that has to be held in rein by Tony, and a streak of jealousy (with a bit of possessiveness mixed in). While Paul's representing the more intelligently-discussed arguments about settling Pyxidea, Austin is an effective contrast, for the latter shows a rather nastier streak about it. Can't call him an evil character, but he's definitely shown as something of a gasoline on fire sort of character. Curiously, because some of his views do compare with Paul's, in general if not in measure (i.e. not in just how far each would go), that sets up a comparative resonance of sorts too. Are they that much different in views? Yes and no is perhaps the best answer.
Kano had some dialog, all of it appearing very in character, and I liked that he had a key role deciphering some of the alien transmissions.
Bob had a few scenes, and they were effective, especially when he's trying to be the voice of reason when Helena is coming up with "grandiose" plans that cannot be practically implemented. She sees his logic (it crossed her mind) but needed to hear it from him. Good interaction of colleagues.
Alan had good scenes as well. Involved in the initial landing. Injured but much later still making the dash to try defusing the mutiny (not to mention his calling it as he sees it, very direct and to the point about the mutiny, but also, earlier, that he doesn't consider Pyxidea a gift), his thought at the moment he gets hit by stun gun fire.... Not one of the primary characters in this novel, but still had good roles here.
Well, as I indicated or implied in the Review portion, this novel does extremely well on character development. Many of the points I found awkward at times in Y1 itself are absent, while starting to mix in some Y2 characters and characterization bits, in a well-integrated way that makes the characters seem richer, but still very much continuing to grow. Characters unique to this story are well-sketched where they need to be, distinctive, and not over-simplified. All in all, nicely done!
I think my earlier analysis section delved pretty far into the plot, so actually, I don't have much to say in summary, other than I thought it progressed exceedingly well, from receipt of first transmissions, to the mission on the planet. The battle scene against the Slath-Zar was effective, the progression meeting the Cryptodira well-drawn, through the disease, Koenigs wondering and then recognizing the deja vu regarding the Cryptodirans. Helena discovering the diseases they are suffering, the intricate but well-explained details regarding them, trying to save them, failing, and the progression of the mutiny.
The pacing is effective, and kept me interested and continuing throughout. My quibble with the pacing of the Eagle Lift dropping is minor, and I think the bit mentioning the PC and Internet strikes me (just IMO) as a little extraneous and feeling out of place, but these did not take away from a strong plot.
Wow! Absolutely packed with so much thematic material, from finding the apparent purpose of the late Space Brain, the incredible chain of damage wrought by its death impacting a subsequent world. Of being forsaken, however unintentionally. The guilt several Alphans show, even if they tried to avoid the original incident. Musings upon the surprising points of Alpha's survival. The feeling of perhaps being a pawn, manipulated, tested.... Life in the universe. The need -- or lack thereof -- to explore. Then of course about loyalty and betrayal, of streaks of independence under authority, of the impact of one's past getting expressed later in life. The impact of events and people and peoples on each other. Transitions, of Alpha within itself and of whole worlds. Children (or lack thereof) on Alpha. Hope dying. Hope popping up in unexpected places. Moral choices, of course, especially on whether to take advantage of dark gains.
This novel is no less hard-hitting when it comes to thematic material than Resurrection was. Resurrection took several themes and dug deep (and sometimes very dark). The Forsaken took a different approach, throwing a wide net and touching on a lot of themes, some more than others, but never superficially, and some still pretty deeply. Plenty for the reader to absorb, and/or to think about.
The themes here in The Forsaken are a lot of the ones that have long resonated with me, or in the other cases, that I still found striking here. It is powerful stuff, and several scenes I pointed out really pack a lot of punch. Incredible, very well thought out, and researched as well (i.e. the author looked for a lot of those points in prior events, as precendent and/or to build further upon).
Arranging the upper reaches of the novel's structure in musical terms felt very appropriate for what is a whole underlying musical theme, especially with the aliens but sometimes among the humans as well. This is done effectively, both as a structure and as a story-telling theme.
Just a few points or questions that didn't really fit in elsewhere but that I still definitely wanted to make.
Well, that's it. I waxed very verbose on this, I realize; but it was a very interesting novel to read and review.
Review of Powys Novels
R-09/24/09: webpage created from four emails (with modifications) originally sent in August and September 2009.