Pros: Fascinating SF adventure/war novel with interesting tech & characters
Cons: Too much emotional distance from most of the characters
Rating: 4 out of 5
Review copy courtesy of P.D. Gilson.
Doyle Gage and the rest of the Gaea-02 test crew are on their way back to Earth. The Gaea technology is progressing well, and they all have high hopes that it, together with the resources available on a distant planet, can help to solve Earth’s pressing clean water problem, at least for a while.
When they return, however, they find they have larger problems than some of the crew’s personality conflicts. Nuclear bombs have been detonated in key locations around the Earth. It isn’t a wasteland, but the political climate has changed drastically, and Gaea’s crew is in grave danger. The enemy wants their technology, and Doyle sees no way to keep it from them without abandoning the young son he left behind on Earth.
Soon the crew has settled in for a long journey, hoping to find a way out of their predicament when they reach that distant planet. But even decades of cold sleep can’t erase a history of war, and Doyle and his crew have just as much danger waiting for them at the other end of their trip—if not more.
P.D. Gilson’s Gaea: Beyond the Son takes place in a not-too-distant future, after we’ve run dangerously short of potable water on Earth. There’s a technology called D-salt that can make large amounts of wastewater completely drinkable, but the catch-22 is that it takes vast amounts of clean water to make D-salt in the first place. That’s where the distant planet comes in—the idea is to set up D-salt production facilities there, and ship the D-salt back home. Unfortunately for Doyle, the shakedown and test flight of the Gaea technology ends up becoming a flight to that distant planet when war intervenes, forcing the crew to rely on prototype technologies for their safety.
Of course, even though they sleep through the decades of their long flight, the war hasn’t magically ended by the time they get to their destination. They’re the enemy now, on an alien world where simple survival would be difficult enough. And Doyle’s determined that one way or another, his flight won’t end until he’s reunited with his son.
The setup provides us with a great science-based adventure novel crossed with a war novel. The main characters are largely scientists, each with their own areas of specialty, allowing for some fascinating uses of technology in the desperate battles that ensue. The two sides in the war are given enough due that they aren’t reduced to stereotype. The characters have their quirks, flaws, and so on, largely giving them appropriate depth.
Unfortunately, despite that depth, I could never shake the feeling that the characters were held at arm’s length. I could watch and even sympathize with the tragedies that shook them, but I couldn’t feel the heart-wrenching of empathy that I feel when I’m really pulled into a character’s suffering or joy. Gaea definitely succeeded in the realm of page-turning action-adventure—I constantly wanted to know what happened next—but the character emotions were somehow distant. Because many events are triggered by characters reacting from emotion, this sometimes gave events a slightly ‘off’ feeling. I’m not entirely sure what it was about the writing that created that distance, but I can’t help thinking that while this was definitely a good and enjoyable story, if it had had that additional empathy, it would have been positively stunning.