When I first saw that Beth Revis had self-published a new novel, I wondered why. After all, her ACROSS THE UNIVERSE series was three successful books long, published in twenty languages; she had contacts and contracts and didn’t really need to do the work of putting things out there by herself, did she? Interestingly, the book is a thank you – full of characters readers loved and couldn’t let go. With a striking cover, it’s set to fill that last little corner fans of the ACROSS THE UNIVERSE series didn’t know needed to be filled. It’s backstory, and kind of a prequel.
A standalone, the novel shows what was on the Earth that the space-faring families had left behind in ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, and it also has its own definite plot. It reminded me a great deal of the Will Smith movie based on the Asimov novel I, Robot, (but not the novel; the film really had very little to do with it at all), with a lot of action, a lot of confusion, and a LOT of androids and scientists. Nefarious doings, bees, frightened teens, and rampaging nanobots – a bit of romance, a bit of betrayal – just another day in SFland.
I felt this novel lacked in the characterization typical of a Revis novel; the author, however, did some things deliberately which you’ll have to read to discover. I did feel like the ending summed up everything a little too sweetly; all the screaming of “what do we do, WHAT DO WE DO!?” and threatening to do something drastic, ala Jack Bauer from 24 was suddenly unkinked – all was revealed, all understood, no one else died, they prepared to sail into the future… a little tidy for me, but fans will really love having more of this universe.
Summary: Ella Shepard’s brilliant scientist mother is all she has left. Her father was killed by terrorists – the price of the peace the country now enjoys. The United Countries, rather than the United States are part of the new world, and the seat of the government is in New Venice on Malta – where the most important of peace accords have begun in modern times. Ella is happy – or would be, if only her mother wasn’t dying. The nanobots which her father’s research created to stem the tide of her disease are no longer working… her brain and her body are shutting down. Before long, Ella will be alone, except for her mother’s best friend and partner in the Reverie Spa, a place where through dreams, wealthy patrons relive their best memories. Her mother is in pain and dying – Ella wants to give her just one more good memory of her father. She does something she’s not sure anyone can do — it’s based on a theory… and it messes up her brain completely. Suddenly, she’s hallucinating her father, hearing bees, and catching the attention of the government. She’s working for United Countries now, and she may have found the terrorists who killed her father. Or, maybe they’re not terrorists at all.
Ella’s not sure what her brain is telling her. She’s not sure she can believe what her eyes – what her brain – tells her is true. Why does she keep hallucinating her father telling her to wake up? From what?
Peaks: The author’s worldbuilding and engaging style are seen here, propelling the story along at a good clip. Though there are … loops, where the narrative seems to repeat itself, the reader is still drawn forward, in the hopes that something more will be revealed. It’s almost a mystery, what’s going on, and the tale-withing-a-tale construction is well executed.
Valleys: I had some light quibbles – very light – with characterization in the novel, but most of my difficulties were with the science. I know that SF deals in pseudoscience based on the real. I think this novel lacked a clear enough explanation of the science for me to enjoy it as much as I could have. The body operates on electricity, indeed, and there’s a lot of interesting applications of that within the brain that Revis ran with, and I was fine with that for the most part. The ideas in the novel of androids and sentience seem to have been pretty well covered in Star Trek, and in the I, Robot film, however the description and explanations of it all felt so fuzzy it seemed like all we were missing with Mary Shelley and some lightning. A small quibble, but there you go.
Also, one of the pivotal moments of the novel didn’t work for me. As to not provide spoilers, I’ll simply say that staring into the eyes of an android in hopes that you can see its soul doesn’t seem to me to be a reliable way to ascertain if it has one… but, that’s just me.
Conclusion: Fast-paced, with a smart girl who punches a boy for presumption (YEE HAW, that was a good moment) and a complex and slightly dizzying plot, this is a novel which will appeal so much to Revis fans. I found it diverting, though it’s not my favorite book she’s ever written.