Crash by Guy Haley – Book Review [Shadowhawk]
Shadowhawk takes a look at the latest novel from Guy Haley for Solaris Books.
“One of the best science fiction novels I’ve read to date, Crash perfectly captures the idea of life at the frontier, one driven by economics and social change. Fascinating is the word that comes to mind.” ~Shadowhawk, The Founding Fields
There are a small handful of authors working in the industry right now who I would class as automatic reads for myself. They are the ones that I can read without any kind of reservations and go in expecting to be wowed and amazed. Guy Haley is one such author. The first two of his books that I read, Reality 36 and Omega Point, were not as good as I’d expected them to be, but they were still good reads all the same. They had some great ideas to be sure and that’s what I loved about them the most. Guy then took those ideas several steps further and gave us Champion of Mars which was a phenomenal book in almost all respects. He then followed it up with Baneblade, a Warhammer 40,000 tie-in novel which changed the way I look at Warhammer 40,000 fiction by presenting a very detailed look into the setting as far as the tank armies of the far future are concerned, Hard SF in a way. And now, he’s given us Crash, another science fiction novel that is quite a space opera adventure about colonizing a new world. He’s put out some other books in the last year or so but I haven’t had a chance to read them as yet, something I do regret. I will hopefully be correcting that soon.
Crash is a book that I got because it had Guy Haley’s name on the cover. That’s really the long and short of it. I knew only the barebones stuff about it, that it had some kind of a take on business and market economics of the future and that it was SF. Knowing so little prepared me well to be wowed and amazed at every turn because that’s what the novel did for me. It starts off on the Earth of the future, where all trading markets are unified in a virtual-access system that is operated in real-time by plugged-in traders and compliance officials. It then moves on to talking about the social changes of the future, an era in which genetic engineering has given rise to a new subdivision of the human race. From there, it finally moves on to the romantic notion of space exploration and colonising a new planet.
In short, the novel throws out a lot at you, but Guy being Guy, all the complexities are easy to traverse. There’s not a moment where you feel lost or uncertain. And a large part of that is due to Crash’s diverse cast of characters, all of whom have a specific and great part to play in the narrative conceived by Guy.
Almost more than anything else, what I really loved about the novel was how Guy extrapolates the realities of our lives right now into his version of the future, a future where the concept of the 1% and the 99% has become something much more bleaker. Power and money have consolidated into the hands of fewer and fewer people until all there are are the Pointers, the people who control the world economy, business, industries, everything. They are defended by genetically engineered bodyguards who are coded to obey their every word and the economical and social climate has worsened under their rule. Global markets now exist as a semi-sentient (to a degree) quasi-entity that is deemed infallible. The average person in this future is even less well-off than he or she is now.
Under an institutionalised system like this, it is only natural that eventually people would start to hit back. That’s where one of this book’s most fascinating characters, Dariusz, comes into play. Selected as part of the first ever mass colonisation effort beyond the solar system, he has the comfort of only his son being selected alongside, his wife deemed unsuitable. This drives him to a moment of weakness where he submits to a subversive authority that seeks to derail the colonisation efforts, in the hopes that doing so will destabilize the businesses of the Pointers and thus pave the way for a global socio-economic change on Earth where the Pointers finally begin to lose their grip.
Crash is the personal journey of a man who makes all the wrong choices, suffers for them, and then attempts to live by them in order to atone for them. In that respect, Dariusz really is a fantastic character. Guy does a great job with his characterisation and the emotional, personal beats of the story that follows from the very first moment that we meet the character. I really could not have asked for better.
But Dariusz is not the only character here of course. There are a number of others who are often just as important as him in the greater of scheme of things. One of the other characters that I totally loved was Cassandra “Sandy” De Mona, a pilot who works the in-system shipping lanes and is later selected to be a part of the colonisation process as a shuttle hauler for one of the colony ships. She has her own distinct arc in the novel and Guy does a great job with her too, fleshing out her motivations and her character over the second half of the novel. She makes a fantastic entry in the first half and things go uphill from there. She has wit to match her abilities and she really was a great character.
There are a lot more of course. Like Karl Njalsson, one of the Market traders who is also a good friend of Sandy and is one of the only people (shown) who discovers the plannings of the colonisation effort before they are publicly announced. That in itself is quite intriguing and Guy does some good things with him all throughout the first few pages. I would have liked to see more of him, since I liked his character, but I’m fine with how much we do see nevertheless.
Of course, the best part of the novel, in a macroscopic way is the second half, when one of the colony ships crash-lands on a planet on the way to its actual destination. From then on, the novel is one of survival against all odds, of man versus nature, of man struggling to exist on a world where most of his technology is useless. Earlier on, Guy introduces the concept of digital chips embedded in each person that acts to keep them connected to everybody else, in a kind of a biological social media network. It is one of the strongest sci-fi elements of the novel, and in the second half Guy shows how not being connected to a network that the colonists have lived with for uncountable years takes its toll on them. It is like social media withdrawal after being on Facebook/Twitter/Google+/etc for all your life, 24×7.
Fascinating things indeed.
And the dangers that the survivors of the crash face on the planet, named Nycthemeron by one of them, are quite unique as well. Guy comes up with some interesting geological and weather hazards, not to mention the fact that the native fauna, such as it is, is scary as hell at best. This is where his attention to detail really thrives and I loved all the brief glimpses I got in the second half of the novel. But things don’t end there, they continue all the way into an explosive finale that I loved, loved, loved. I would dearly love for there to be a sequel of this novel, because it totally deserves one.
For my time’s worth, Crash was a fantastic read and I’m really glad that I ended my reading for last year with a novel as good as this, and it was in some fine company indeed in December.