A Superb Foray Into Sci-Fi
Sanderson raises the YA sci-fi quality bar in this high-flying story of human survival, friendship, legacy, loss, and confronting enormous odds.
“Sometimes, the answers we need don't match the questions we're asking." … "And sometimes, the coward makes fools of wiser men.”
Deep in the semi-protected caverns of an alien planet under siege, a colony of humans struggle to survive. In order to ensure that survival, they recruit and train pilots to combat the enigmatic alien force that would see them eradicated. With their population dwindling, they’ve been forced to take on and activate unprepared cadets fresh out of school. And a girl named Spensa aims to be one of those recruits. There’s just one problem with her ambitions… She’s the daughter of a notorious “coward”—a pilot who supposedly abandoned his team in the middle of a historic battle. It’s from almost solely her perspective that we’re introduced to the planet of ‘Detritus,’ and the cast system of unwitting crash descendants who have been isolated from the rest of humanity.
Despite (and/or perhaps because of) growing up in abject poverty and culturally enforced ridicule, Spensa has an incredibly strong force of will. Not much by way of grace or social intelligence, but plenty of determination… along with a temper, cleverness, and nigh-grandiose aggression level unmatched by any of her peers. It’s her against the world AND the decimating alien force. Yet she refuses to be deterred, regardless of the cost. Downtrodden tomboys everywhere will find her both inspirational and easy to relate to. And those living in the shame shadow of a close relative may find in her a champion.
Note: From the moment she suggested her overprivileged flight leader’s callsign be ‘Jerkface’, this reader was sold on her.) >.>
"You get to choose who you are. Legacy, memories of the past, can serve us well. But we cannot let them define us. When heritage becomes a box instead of an inspiration, it has gone too far."
I’d describe this a medium sci-fi. Far-flung futuristic to be sure, but still paying respect to the realm of plausibility. The worldbuilding is satisfyingly solid, unfolding at a pressingly organic pace while our heroine navigates her world as she understands it… and gradually pieces together the many aspects she either didn’t realize or that were deliberately hidden from her. The inclusion of black-and-white ship schematic sketches, along with concisely described maneuvers, bring a welcome cinematic quality to the storytelling. And the political, bureaucratic, and cultural nuances are flawed and incuriously bias enough to be wholly believable.
I adored M-Bot. As an A.I. character, he was broken and humorous—unwittingly mysterious for all his missing memory and ability to create new subroutines. (And what’s with that quirky obsession with fungus?) I particularly appreciated that he grew and developed (or perhaps regrew) throughout his time with Spensa, to the point where she clearly began to rub off on him.
"A pox of unique human diseases--many of which cause an uncomfortable swelling--come upon you!"
M-Bot and Spensa’s relationship is endearingly special and robustly human. An aspect I rarely see pulled off with Artificial Intelligence when it is represented—as it is admittedly difficult to strike a believable balance between inorganic sentience and budding emotional comprehension. Sanderson’s handling worked beautifully for me:
"But my subroutine that can simulate appreciation . . . is appreciative."
"That's kind of what it does," he added. "Appreciate things."
"I would never have figured."
"It can appreciate something at a million times per second. So you could say your comment is likely the single most appreciated thing you've ever done."
Dear Mr. Sanderson,
Thank you for doing the sci-fi genre justice within the YA realm. I haven’t been this invested in –or pleased with—a space-faring story since Ender’s Game. I eagerly await the next installment.
Angela N. Blount
* "But it's a natural outgrowth of the totalitarian need for absolute power over those who resist her--the very example of the hypocrisy of the system. Defiance is not 'Defiant' to them unless it doesn't actually defy anything."
* "It always seemed to me," she said, "that a coward is a person who cares more about what people say than about what is right. Bravery isn't about what people call you, Spensa. It's about what who you know yourself to be."