Title: Void Star
Author: Zachary Mason
Genre: Fiction, science fiction, dystopian
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Release date: April 11th, 2017
Where I got the book: I received a free e-ARC from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
My rating: ★★★☆☆
Summary (modified from Goodreads): In the not-so-distant future, the seas have risen, the central latitudes are emptying, and in San Francisco weapons drones patrol the skies. Irina has an artificial memory that gives her perfect recall and lets her act as a medium between her various employers and their AIs. Now, she has unwillingly discovered a secret belonging to one of her employers. Kern is one of the many refugees living in the drone-built favelas on the city’s periphery, where he trains in the martial arts and scrapes by as a thief and an enforcer. Now, he’s on the run after robbing the wrong mark. Thales is the mathematically inclined scion of a Brazilian political clan, and he has fled to L.A. after the attack that left him crippled. Now, a mysterious stranger demands to know how much he can remember. None are safe as their journeys are pushed together by subtle, unseen forces.
“And then, without warning, the static is gone, and the AI’s thoughts are there before her, manifest as a dully glowing nebula, riddled with storms, roiling sluggishly.”
– Void Star, Zachary Mason
This was a very intriguing, philosophical, but also challenging read. The writing in this is excellent – Mason has a way with words and describes everything in vivid detail, which results in some fascinating imagery, ranging from vast cities to deep jungles. He paints an exciting picture of a futuristic world and creates a cold, gray, almost streamlined atmosphere. There’s great imagination at work here and this is evident in the world-building, which isn’t only limited to San Francisco. Throughout the novel we quickly travel to places all over the world, such as Japan, Thailand, Greece, and Brazil – just to name a few.
One thing that I really loved about this novel is that this future isn’t very distant at all. It’s not really specified but I’m thinking it’s set maybe – give or take – a hundred years or so from now. The technology is definitely advanced but it doesn’t seem unlikely. Drone-controlled cars, clinically (genetically?) slowing down the aging process, biotechnological enhancements and replacements such as memory implants, and artificial intelligence so superior it’s almost sentient and independent. Some of these things are being researched today and have been for a while now. This is a sci-fi completely on AI-level and it’s all about computational knowledge, intelligence, and power. Combined with the power of memory and our fear of mortality and death, this creates an exciting concept that’s not hard to get into. I also really like all the traveling together with all this new technology – it puts it all in a different perspective, both the actual journey itself and the contrasts between places.
However, the main problem I have with this is that sometimes things are moving so fast, and the story is so layered and fluid that it’s hard to keep up. It’s also at times very confusing. I often wondered what was happening, where the characters actually were in time and space, and sometimes even what kind of physical state they were in – whether they were awake, dreaming, imagining things, or alive at all. I didn’t expect this feeling of complexity because the plot itself – though fragmented in the beginning – comes together very nicely and is rather straight-forward. But long and wandering sentences, moments that nearly read like streams of consciousness, and the constant bits and pieces of technological information sometimes make staying focused a bit of a struggle. As a result of this confusion, I also found it difficult to properly connect with the characters, and sometimes I failed to get a good sense of how well they related to each other. The constant jumps back and forth between their viewpoints didn’t help very much either. I found this a bit exhausting, especially since the book is generally so action-filled, and I felt I had to reset and start all over again when I began a new chapter. All of this considerably slowed my reading process and is mainly what kept me from rating the book any higher than I have.
Overall though, this was a new reading experience for me as I can’t think of having read anything quite like this before, which is great in itself. I recommend this for fans of science fiction who would be interested in a future that’s fairly close to our present, and who wouldn’t mind a novel that thoughtfully and poetically explores new technology through an action-filled plot.