RogerBW's Blog

Way Down Dark, J. P. Smythe 30 June 2018

2011 young adult science fiction, first of the Australia Trilogy. Chan lives on the generation ship Australia, built in haste after Earth collapsed; they didn't find a new planet, so they've kept going. But its society is breaking down. Spoilers.

Stories about generation ships – as distinct from stories that start with the generation ship arriving somewhere – are always about how the ship or the society go wrong, and this is no exception. There are normal people and there are the gangs – the Pale Women, the Bells, the Lows – and the Lows in particular seem to be taking over. From the inside, the ship looks a lot like a decaying tower block, with no police or anything like a civil administration. And the normal people are helpless to do anything about it; there's a pervasive meme of not getting involved, even when your neighbours are being raped and murdered.

The real problem with the book, as well as the society, is that there's no life of the mind. Most people don't read; everything is endlessly recycled; there are stories passed down orally, but that's it. So Chan, the first-person viewpoint character, has no basis for comparison: there's a vague sense that things used to be better, but this is the only life she's known, so the reader has to do all the work of drawing parallels. None of these people knows or thinks about anything interesting; Chan feels a sense of duty to the other normal people, for reasons that never become apparent, but that's about it. She also has a compulsion against killing, and leaves her major enemy alive several times, which only leads to more trouble as she futilely tries to resist the advance of the gangs.

But I've read Hugh Howey's Wool, and that's way more depressing than this. And it has better-developed characters too.

As for the science fiction angle, it does eventually become apparent that Earth wasn't destroyed at all, and that this is simply a prison ship. But there's a huge logic gap here: if the idea was to make a prison that people wouldn't try to break out of, why not simply build it on Earth and pretend it's in space? Given that there's a constant one-gravity acceleration towards the bottom of the ship, and no access to the outside, I can't conceive of any real or imaginary technology that would make it cheaper to build an actual ship in orbit than to put the same structure on or in the ground. That idea's been done in other stories, of course (Jerry Oltion's Frame of Reference comes to mind), but it would just make much more sense here than, as it turns out, putting the thing in Earth orbit and fitting it with what I guess is meant to be artificial gravity.

This is a YA dystopia, so much in the manner of The Maze Runner, after lots and lots of fighting and death our heroine breaks out (and returns to Earth) into what is clearly going to be an even bigger dystopia. To Be Continued. This is nothing like a complete story.

Followed by Long Dark Dusk, but I have no plans to read it.

[Buy this at Amazon] and help support the blog. ["As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases."]

  1. Posted by Michael Cule at 12:06pm on 30 June 2018

    I have no desire to read this book (thank you) but...

    Wait? What?

    They build a prison generation ship? They build a prison for the descendants of the people they want to be rid of? That's... Not only unjust but bonkers!

    Were they convinced that these people were genetically predisposed to being Not Good People? Or was it their Evil Corrupt Culture that was bad? And despite feeling that they were too squeamish to commit genocide?

    The backstory she make no sense!

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 09:06pm on 30 June 2018

    I assume that these questions will be answered in the next thrilling installment. Or maybe volume three.

    I don't suppose I shall ever find out.

Comments on this post are now closed. If you have particular grounds for adding a late comment, comment on a more recent post quoting the URL of this one.

Tags 1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s 2010s 3d printing action advent of code aeronautics aikakirja anecdote animation anime army astronomy audio audio tech aviation base commerce battletech beer boardgaming book of the week bookmonth chain of command children chris chronicle church of no redeeming virtues cold war comedy computing contemporary cornish smuggler cosmic encounter coup covid-19 crime crystal cthulhu eternal cycling dead of winter doctor who documentary drama driving drone ecchi economics en garde espionage essen 2015 essen 2016 essen 2017 essen 2018 essen 2019 essen 2022 essen 2023 existential risk falklands war fandom fanfic fantasy feminism film firefly first world war flash point flight simulation food garmin drive gazebo genesys geocaching geodata gin gkp gurps gurps 101 gus harpoon historical history horror hugo 2014 hugo 2015 hugo 2016 hugo 2017 hugo 2018 hugo 2019 hugo 2020 hugo 2021 hugo 2022 hugo 2023 hugo 2024 hugo-nebula reread in brief avoid instrumented life javascript julian simpson julie enfield kickstarter kotlin learn to play leaving earth linux liquor lovecraftiana lua mecha men with beards mpd museum music mystery naval noir non-fiction one for the brow opera parody paul temple perl perl weekly challenge photography podcast politics postscript powers prediction privacy project woolsack pyracantha python quantum rail raku ranting raspberry pi reading reading boardgames social real life restaurant reviews romance rpg a day rpgs ruby rust scala science fiction scythe second world war security shipwreck simutrans smartphone south atlantic war squaddies stationery steampunk stuarts suburbia superheroes suspense television the resistance the weekly challenge thirsty meeples thriller tin soldier torg toys trailers travel type 26 type 31 type 45 vietnam war war wargaming weather wives and sweethearts writing about writing x-wing young adult
Special All book reviews, All film reviews
Produced by aikakirja v0.1