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Shadowhawk reviews the self-published SF space-opera novel Particle Horizon by debut author Selso Xisto.
“If you pick up this novel, then expect a fast-paced tale of heroism, sacrifice, megalomania, fanaticism combined with building new relationships and coming into your own, free of the oppressive influences of others. In short, this was fantastic!” ~The Founding Fields
It is always a nice feeling when an author contacts you about reviewing their work. At the very least, it is an ego-boost, although that ego is quickly deflated when you consider your reading pile. And let’s be fair, most book bloggers have huge reading piles at any given time. So its always slightly disheartening when you have to tell an author that their novel will have to wait its turn. But then again, its not so bad if the author is understanding, as Selso Xisto was here. Thing is, I resolved to read Particle Horizon as quick as I could because a) the title is cool, b) interesting artwork, c) this is a science-fiction novel, and d) Selso Xisto is an awesome name for an author.
The name of the novel itself evokes an atmosphere hinting at a grand setting, one where the smallest of actions have the biggest consequences, often in the most unexpected ways. I consider that acceptable hyperbole in this case. There’s something very primal about the novel in its totality, beginning with the name and then ending with the climax. I keep reading the name and what springs to mind are all those episodes of various SF shows over the years that deal with singularities, transcending the normal planes of existence and what not, often with quite a philosophical and introspective bent. I can’t really explain it properly.
Particle Horizon is about a final, deciding clash between the Union of the Free Worlds and the Legion of Light. The former is the dominant Human empire in the setting, its defining traits are its high level of technology and its break from all religion. The latter is a state founded on the notion of a single god, the Lightbringer, being the only guiding light for Mankind. The two states come to a clash on the world of Angelhaven, which is a large asteroidal colony of weapons manufacturers and miners. As such, the novel is told from the viewpoints of a several key characters and it really makes the conflict between the UFW and the Legion come alive.
Frankly, there are too many great characters for me to talk about here. I loved each and every one of them, whether it is the kids Iolana and her brother Keoni, the unwilling Legion soldier Aja, the android Una and her alter-ego Eve, the elite UFW soldier Xavier, or a number of others. Each of them struck a chord with me because they were all realistic and believable characters with real motivations. This is one of the things where the author has really excelled at. His characters live and breathe with the narrative and they each show off a slice of the world that he has created.
Each character brings something different to the narrative and through them we really see the full scope of the war. Added to that are several philosophical, existential issues that are raised throughout the novel. One of these is: how different are androids from humans? For fans of Star Trek this will be quite familiar given all the personal conflicts that Data goes through in The Next Generation and in the movies. There are no hard and fast answers to this of course. Guy Haley raises similar issues in his Richards and Klein Investigations novels and even there you never really get a conclusive answer. But that’s the charm I suppose. There isn’t meant to be a conclusive answer to this because that’s what makes reading novels like these so much fun. Selso Xisto does a great job of exploring this concept and this is also resolved in a really neat way at the end of the novel. Quite an emotional moment as well, just as much as the end of Star Trek: Resurrection.
With all the reading I’ve been doing lately one thing that really stands out is how large the cast often is. While some people may be off by that fact, this is something that I really do enjoy. Following a single character can be really tedious, even if written well. Going the opposite route makes the entire experience more wholesome, especially in SF/F settings. If nothing else, read Particle Horizon for the variety of its characters.
Angelhaven, the place where the majority of the action in the novel takes place, is also a very unique and interesting location. If you take a look at that cover again, you kinda see why. The colonists have installed special grav tubes throughout the asteroid that serve, in the main as far as recreation goes, to provide places where people can fly about thanks to a special jetpack harness. Now, how cool is that? Its like skateboarding of the future, except much more interesting and thrilling.
The pacing of the novel is mostly on the money although it does drop off a few times. They are few and far in between however and the novel doesn’t slow down much. The author has a good, consistent balance between offering edge-of-the-seat action scenes and scenes where the action isn’t physical, but conversational. There is a strong undercurrent of tension throughout Particle Horizon and that was one of the things that just kep me going. Each chapter ends on a great cliffhanger and you have to turn the pages to read what is going to happen next to the characters.
Speaking of action scenes, I really loved all of them. Selso Xisto really highlights the technological difference between the UFW and the Legion and his writing really makes these scenes worth it. Lots of variety to these as well, and frankly, variety is something you can definitely expect from him. Whether it is soldiers engaged in gunfights or hand-to-hand, or kids wearing jetpacks and carrying rifles, or androids duking it out with each other, the action in the novel has something for almost everybody.
So overall, I have to say that I really liked Selso Xisto’s debut novel. It kept me entertained and interested throughout and there was never a dull moment. It is also a novel that goes beyond just being an SF novel, since it raises all those philosophical and existential questions. Lots of food for thought.