Gaea: Beyond the Son by P.D. Gilson. Review by Joe Babinsack
The premise of near future space travel, and the first mission to a planet outside our solar system is a great one. Most of science fiction is based on the premise that the stars truly will be our destiny. The details in getting there are often overlooked: it's far easier to plunk down a story somewhere "in the future" and avoid all the messiness of getting there.
Gaea: Beyond the Son is a book that proposes to fill in some of those details. Unfortunately, the big picture concepts and much of the plotline is driven by ideology, not logic; the story itself is far too downbeat for the typical science fiction aficionado; and the details and technology seem to be beaten down by verbiage and flowery prose rather than solid functionality.
But then again, it is science fiction. This isn't the place to debate scientific "consensus" of global catastrophes, and I'll avoid a spirited and factual assessment of scientific positions. Read Michael Crichton's State of Fear for all that! But to build the reasoning for man to be a space-faring race not only upon global warming, but a premise that the Earth's water is polluted and potable water is a scarce resource is a stretch of the imagination? Facts suggest that nearly eighty percent of the Earth's surface is water! Coupled with space-faring technology and a crew member that is masterful in the concept of terraforming—terraforming skills are defined as "molding the planet's surface and atmosphere"—one is quickly affronted by the illogic of mankind being able to transform an alien planet, while being unable to do the same for Earth.
But flaws in the big picture are not a killer to a book. There are countless examples of books that really don't make much sense when you get down to it—that's a staple of science fiction as well. But the essence of sci-fi needs to have some mooring, whether it's the big concept being played out, whether it's the details being explored, or whether it's the captivating prose and storytelling to draw the reader into that world.
Unfortunately, I'm missing out on something with Gaea. Diversity is, in and of itself, a fine concept. But when diversity means a melting pot of names and places of origins, plus the convenience of brothers, a married couple, and a chain of command already broken and flawed—as the basis of an experimental crew, it makes it hard for the "suspension of disbelief."
Red-shirted crew as cannon-fodder is a staple of Star Trek, but having expendable mechanics, an expendable Captain, and a slew of ongoing and deathly tragedies, accidents and infighting makes no sense. Likewise, when an enemy is unfolded in the opening pages, an enemy that has killed hundreds of millions of people, and the rest of the story is based on a theme carried by the lead protagonist that "we must get along" to the point of carrying non-lethal weapons and crashing head first into highly dangerous situations, just to create an opportunity for dialogue, goes beyond my comprehensions.
About the only big picture sensibility that rang true was that the Asian Pacific Alliance, once it found out that the United Earth Coalition really didn't have nuclear weapons, did the obviously humanistic response in attacking its adversary, taking over its technology, and dominating the planet and the future of mankind. That the story conveniently avoids any moral implications of that act is mind boggling. I mean, there's an evil empire of sorts taking over humanity's future, but the main character, Doyle Gage, is more concerned with his son. His son, by the way, lost his mother to cancer when he was very young. Doyle had no problem leaving behind a small child for a mission to test out the Gaea-2 spacecraft, but desperately wants to get back to him...
But again, there's a distinct lack of antagonist here. The APA could and should provide more of a physical and imminent threat, but the hurdles and obstacles are accidents, traitorous acts, flaws in human nature and some rather shaky command decisions. Which on one hand can be a nice analogy to human nature, but the onslaught of death and destruction gets overwhelming.
The other major flaw is temporal. Space travel takes time. There are interesting insights into the how and the effects, but the concept of decades of suspended animation, as the world goes on about and around that spacecraft's existence, seems a bit off. Even if, as the book posits early on, that space technology leaps ahead every few years, the notion that the APA—in acquiring technology by bloodshed, and in considering the track record of tyrannical, socialist governments in truly pushing the envelope of technology—should not so readily achieve leaps of space faring technology. And not, as the plot unfolds, to have achieved the aims of the UEC and spread to the stars far faster than anticipated.
Perhaps, however, I am being too harsh. Space exploration is a great and vastly interesting subject, and PD Gilson gives a good spin on the harsh realities of mankind making the next step into the future. I would have preferred, however, more emphasis on the details and the path of overcoming obstacles, instead of grand ideology and an accident prone reality.
Joe Babinsack is a credited co-author/game designer in the world of collectible card games, a tremendous collector of comic books, and he also writes weekly columns for the www.wrestlingobserver.com site.