Saturday 22 May 2021

Book Review of Pelagia by Steve Holloway

 * * * *

A Science Fiction novel full of ideas.

This novel is a Science Fiction adventure thriller used as a platform for a wide spread of the author’s ideas. All of these are worthy and interesting, but there’s a lot of them and the narrative occasionally stalls, mid-novel, when characters are used to explain ideas to the reader via speeches to each other when, perhaps, they could have been better explained through the narrative, or saved up for another novel. It’s almost as if the author thinks this book is his last-ever chance to communicate his vision to others. I will be mortified if this is literally true, but I suspect that it’s a misapprehension and in any case the best way to proceed is as if you’ve always got another book ahead of you.

The pace picks up again and a lot happens before the end.

The author’s primary idea is marine-farming and marine ranching, which leads him to describe a society which could not only make those complementary endeavours work, but also thrive as a culture and as part of the future world economy. That in turns leads to the ways in which that society might protect itself and what the threats to it might be. There are a lot of clever technological ideas inherent in all of this. The author also covers religious extremism in a way which sets neither Christianity nor Islam up as wholly bad, in that there’s no wrong way to believe in God: what’s wrong is for extremists to believe in their own power and ambition instead of believing in God. (The author doesn’t say so, but the logical extension of that is that completely atheist political activists might also believe in their own power and ambition more than they do in their ostensible political dogma. Sometimes, you don’t have to say something to get a message across and this novel could have been better if the author has been willing to let his readers discover a few more ideas for themselves.) Changing one’s beliefs, as some of the characters do, is not a betrayal if it’s a falsehood that’s being discarded -and this novel’s Turing test is that the machine intelligences cannot really comprehend the concept of God. (None of them act maliciously, though.)

I recommend this with four stars because, despite all the shortcomings, there’s an awful lot of ideas here and that’s really what Science Fiction is meant to be about. To get five stars, the treasury of ideas probably needs to be presented in a different format to a single-narrative adventure novel. In the mid evening of her career the Science Fiction writer Ursula le Guin wrote a “future anthropology” entitled “Always Coming Home” which presented stories, both from a common narrative and from outside that narrative but in the same world and culture, together with descriptive articles, songs and even recipes. She was able to write something which immersed the reader in her ideas about a future society and culture (which included something very like a future evolution of the internet and Wikipedia, neither of which had happened at the time of writing) rather than having characters in an adventure give set speeches. (Which Greek or Roman readers might even have wanted.) I don’t expect Steve Holloway to do exactly the same thing, but I hope he can find a better way of putting his considerable number of ideas across.



Pelagia by Steve Holloway is published by Lion Hudson Ltd on the 18th of June 2021. 

Update 2/12/21: This is a link to the author's website for this book.


No comments: