Quick update before we get on with the review. NaNo is off to a good start. I wrote 1,225 words yesterday and 576 today. Since my goal was 500 a day, things are going really well!
Also, I need to make a small edit to the goals for this week. Due to holds on items at the library, I’ve decided to read The Vagrant by Peter Newman before I read A Borrowed Man by Gene Wolfe. Wolfe’s novel is renewable, Newman’s is not. The Vagrant is almost double the size of Wolfe’s book, so I’ve scratched the goal to have it finished this week, and instead am hoping to write the review sometime mid-next week.
Of course, I’ll mention all that in Monday’s post as well.
Now, on to Beacon 23!
I picked this book off the NEW SCI-FI shelf at my library mainly because of the description inside the jacket:
For centuries, men and women have manned lighthouses to ensure the safe passage of ships. It is a lonely job, and a thankless one for the most part. Until something goes wrong. Until a ship is in distress.
In the 23rd century, this job has moved into outer space. A network of beacons allows ships to travel across the Milky Way at many times the speed of light. These beacons are built to be robust. They never break down. They never fail.
At least, they aren’t supposed to.
Now, I had just finished reading the Red Rising trilogy and was dying for more Science Fiction in my life. I ended up reading a lot more Fantasy before I finally cracked this one open, but it was worth the wait.
Beacon 23 is a weird little book. So, the premise is that in the future NASA has strategically placed beacons throughout various sectors of space. These act as lighthouses, directing ships away from hazardous regions of the galaxy.
The protagonist, who remains nameless, is an operator of one of these beacons. Oh, and he’s a war hero. Though, he doesn’t consider himself such. Much of the book revolves his struggle with PTSD and survivor’s guilt. Some of it’s funny, like when he talks to a rock for a week, convinced that it’s a sentient species of alien. And then sad, when he realizes that in order to cope with the death of eight crew members of a crashed cargo ship, which he feels responsible for, he fabricated the existence of the rock’s personality.
There’s a lot of dark, bleak moments. And Hugh Howey does a wonderful job of writing them. His prose is sparse. The protagonist has a very relatable and distinct voice, and his narration of life in Sector 8, in Beacon 23 is definitely memorable.
I don’t want to give too much away, because the book moves in harsh twists and turns that are worth keeping spoil-free. But, suffice it to say that this narrator is lovable, loath-able, and probably more than a touch insane.
But you’ll have to read it for yourself to find out.
What really struck me, more than anything else, was the writing. It’s been a long time since I read something that was so straightforward and human, set in a world completely foreign. The narrator’s situation is far from typical, and yet his reactions and thoughts are 100% believable, and powerful. Even when he makes you doubt the last 40 pages with a single line.
It’s just damn good writing. I will say, the book itself is a little stilted, because it was originally published as five individual ebooks. The copy I read is a single binding, referred to as “The Complete Novel”. I think reading them individually, and waiting for the subsequent releases would have made the book that much more enjoyable, because Howey always left the reader on the edge of a cliff, and you never knew how the narrator would respond to it. Would he jump? Turn around and leave? Or simply drop to his knees and give up?
Waiting for those outcomes would have added a really nice sense of suspense and anticipation. I got to bypass that by flipping to the next page.
Also, this printing had really wonderful art before each “book”. I’m not sure if that art was included in the ebook format, but I enjoyed them in the printed edition.
In conclusion, I would purchase a copy of this book. I think that a second read through would probably offer more insight into what’s real and what’s PTSD delusion, and give me a chance to really appreciate the narrator’s struggle even more. There were a lot of funny moments, but there were a lot of really poignant and powerful ones too.
Thanks to this quick read, I’ll be adding Hugh Howey to my list of authors to read, always.
Until next time Blogland,