This book reminded me why I like reading science fiction. Reading is an exercise in imagination. Picture Paris on the eve of the French Revolution, or New York City in the 1920s, a tall ship lost at sea, a boring suburb, an old shopping mall, a struggling law firm, a sweat shop, a merciless desert, a merciless dessert. Add some characters and off you go. Genres like science fiction and speculative fiction tend to take more liberties with their settings. As the setting becomes more unfamiliar, the exercise becomes more strenuous (I’m looking at you Greg Egan), and the imagination benefits from a little stretching now and then.
Chambers has set humanity adrift in space in large colony ships. This setting is not especially novel, but it’s the details that make the difference. This is a story about society, so the details are about society: economics, diplomacy, work, family, recreation, change, death. This place isn’t just possible, it is inhabited. Each character is an individual with individual problems, and it is only from our omniscient vantage point that we can see the tragedy unfolding. Chambers presents the classic dichotomy of old and new, tradition and progress. It is not subtle, but it is more fable than melodrama. These events aren’t just possible, they are inevitable. It is familiar and frustrating. And while these people’s lives are, in many regards, nothing like my own, I still want to learn from them, and I still want to help them.
This book is part of a series, and you’ll note that I have made no comments on the other books in the series, and that is because I have not read them having blundered into this one before realizing there were others that precede it. I am missing a lot of context, but I can always obtain that context and then read this volume again; not efficient but still good exercise.