Kay Kenyon has been a journeyman(woman?) SF writer for some time, with a number of novels to her credit. She has now decided to up her game with an ambitious start to a SF series known as the “The Entire and the Rose”. Her first novel in this series is Bright of the Sky.
Philip Jose Farmer and Dan Simmons are the obvious progenitors and inspirations for the story of Titus Quinn and the strange universe next door known as the Entire in this first novel in the series.
Kenyon imagines a BDO, Big D*mn Object in the form of a constructed universe in the same way that the World of Tiers is constructed, a universe tunneling through and lying right beside our own, The Rose. Themes from Dan Simmons (including a River that runs through this giant landlocked universe). Alien races, some hauntingly human in their nature, and some very different, and an overseer race of demiurge level power inhabit this strange gigantic constructed world in which former Starship pilot Titus Quinn is sent.
Sent, because he has been, to the disbelief of all, been there before, and had left behind his wife and daughter. When an accident on a space station shows that the Entire that he has spoken of is Real, Titus is coerced into returning into this realm, and the lost memories of what he did there and why.
From the Chinese like Chalin, to the strange Inyx, who only allow the blind to ride them, to the cruel and powerful Tarig who created the Entire, the Entire is a fulmination of many ideas and a vivid imagination. Sentient beings that serve as airships, biologically modified creatures that serve as navigators on the River, intricate cultures and bureaucracies, and more await Titus and the reader as Titus struggles to remember his former place in this world, and seek out his wife and daughter, even as the company who has sent him have ways to ensure that he follows their desires as well. And the inhabitants who meet him are never the same for the experience, from the Chalin who would see his return as a chance for their own rise to power, to the Tarig who react most strongly to Titus’ return…
The novel works best when it concentrates on the Entire, showing us its wonders, its people, its milieu. Comparisons to Simmons and Farmer are fairly reasonable, and I look forward to seeing more of this world in future novels. The Entire is a character in the novel in very much the same way that novels of this vein are. Kenyon has done a lot of work and thought in designing her landlocked universe, and the sheer variety we see in the first novel suggests that there is much more to come on this front. I certainly hope so, since we only get to see two “primacies” (arms). The sociological front is intriguing as well, a mixture of high and low technological, a feudal society which compares and contrasts with the corporate dominated Earth.
Other things work a little less well, some of the exposition of things are a bit clunky. I also didn’t think that the future Earth comes off as well, not only in comparison to the Entire, but in general. It seems that Kenyon’s imagination failed a little bit in depicting what the future Earth would be like. While there is plenty of material here, it pales in comparison to the Entire. Also, some of the characters besides the driven Titus don’t come off as well. Titus is a hero figure, with a quest, and sometimes the other characters, even ones who aren’t in the same scene as him, seem to suffer in comparison to the drive that Titus has.
Since I am the kind of person who loves a BDO and new worlds to explore and develop, I personally overall liked Bright of the Sky and look forward to more. Friends who are more interested in character development will be less enthused with the series, although Bright of the Sky might be worth a paperback read for those, too, especially the roleplayers in my circle. THIS is worldbuilding and getting a taste of how imaginative one can be is no bad thing.
Oh, and the cover art, by the one and only Stephen Martiniere, doesn’t show an exact scene from the novel per se but is spectacular nevertheless in that it shows the center of the amazing Entire, the Ascendancy.
I will pick up and read subsequent novels in this series.