Space science fiction novels are quickly growing in popularity, especially with the recent film adaptation of The Martian. If you’re looking for a shoot-em-up, action-packed space cowboy read, you may be out of luck. The new space-based science fiction novels are a quieter bunch but no less rewarding reads, books that find the protagonist in situations much more complex than defeating warmongering alien races or learning to harness incredible “magic” powers. These books often explore more nuanced struggles
In The Martian, a man is pitted against the deadly natural forces of Mars while battling almost-total isolation and the very real possibility of dying alone. Resonance does not have such dire circumstances – at least at first glance – and instead focuses on a young man’s personal struggle with his own abilities. Arman Lance is that young man, quiet, reserved, and terribly unsure of himself. As he tries to find a purpose for his life, he also contemplates the legacy of the human race in space – how every generation perseveres to make a better world for the generation after them all the while knowing they’ll never live to see the fruits of their labors. He tries to come to terms with all this while balancing his relationship with his girlfriend, Glacia, and his new responsibilities as Head Archivist at the Undilian Embassy and reconciling his duties with his personality and his past.
“…the greatest journeys don’t happen around you. They happen within you.”
Reading a book that is a sequel without first reading the previous book is becoming a bit of a pattern lately with my reviews, but the books I’ve been reading are without a doubt worth it. Resonance follows this pattern but also enhances it, as it could easily have been a standalone book. In fact, I didn’t realize it was a sequel until I was already immersed in the book – and I didn’t really care. I never felt that I was missing out on anything while reading Resonance, even after I became aware of its sequel status. I actually became more excited because that meant I could read more about the beginning of the universe Martin has created for his narrative.
And what a fascinating universe it is! Martin crafts planets in unique and thrilling ways: from dry Undil’s desert beauty to oxygen-rich Daliona’s tropic paradises and frozen tundras, every planet has a unique environment that varies realistically. Undil is home to both the technological marvels of sandy Orvad and the relative dreariness of Cornell, and the Embassy sits among Undil’s mesas and gorges. Even the geological bases of these planets are fascinating to read about. Terraforming is the slower way to make a planet livable but it is the most stable way, while “eco-hacking” provides a suitable environment much quicker but makes the planet unstable, as the characters in Resonance learn.
“But then I think about it…and realize no, I don’t have one, no motto to stamp my name to, no message I’m trying to spread. That needs to change.”
As I mentioned before, the dichotomy of slow versus quick change is as present in the overall themes of Resonance as in the reformation of the planets. Arman faces this dichotomy as he wonders whether his actions will have any affect on those who live in his universe in the future. He undertakes and oversees a massive restructuring of the Undilian Embassy archive system, traveling to update the archives while debating all the while about what his contributions to the future will ultimately be. In this way, Resonance is a subtle coming-of-age novel; Arman’s personal struggles are quiet, but no less profound. I watched Arman grow into his responsibilities and I felt a small pride, as though I were watching a dear friend succeed.
Martin’s characterizations feel fresh. Not just Arman, but every supporting character feels complete, alive. There’s the excitement of Officer Remmit as he discusses the principles of faster-than-light travel with Arman, the quirky genius of Olivarr who dissects every technology he can gets his hands on, the simple strength and integrity of Captain Orcher, the obnoxious but knowledge Rand – everyone has their own personality and conversation between them is never stale. Martin’s dialogue, even when technical, feels engaging and realistic, quite a feat for a science fiction novel about space travel and planet reformation.
As Resonance ends, the easy pacing and quiet ruminations are interrupted violently, and Arman faces a public and personal crisis. After growing to know and love the cast of Resonance it becomes difficult to leave them in the cliffhanger ending that Martin uses to bring the story to a (hopefully) temporary close. That I can spend five-hundred and twenty-nine pages with these characters and still crave more is a testament to Martin’s writing and imagination.
If you walk out of The Martian wanting more, or if you’d just enjoy a change of pace from the gun-slinging antiheroes of science fiction space odysseys, do yourself a favor and give S. Alex Martin’s intelligently written Resonance a chance. You’ll be glad you did.
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