On a dried-out, dying world called Skyland, a young man attempts to break free from the grip of extremism. Unfortunately, escaping from the planet doesn’t help him escape from the burden of who he is.
Review Action, Part Deux!
I wrote a review awhile back on a book called Stories About Things by an author named Aelius Blythe.
There’s more in that piece about Aelius, but long-story-short we’re fellow “Torrent Freaks“, so it was only right that I give a helping hand.
Anyway, Stories About Things was a collection of short stories that ranged from “our world” to fantasy and beyond. Skyland is a sci-fi novel that is only the beginning of a larger tale (the numeral in the title likely gave that away).
Skyland I: Abominations
When the story opens, we’re introduced to the world of Skyland, suffering from a century-long drought that shows no signs of abating.
As you can imagine, life is hard. I mean, really hard.
Everything is rationed by strict consumption laws, although there’s really not an over-abundance of anything to waste. The rough-living farmers subsist mostly on kale. Hard work and kale.
While the city-dwellers have it somewhat better, the situation is so dire that the planetary Union (a “Federation” of sorts, of which Skyland is a peripheral member) has decided to evacuate the planet in order to recolonize the population somewhere else.
So that should be a wrap, and everyone moves somewhere better, right? Well, no. When people are involved the can screw up anything.
The problem is many of the Skylanders worship, well, the sky.
That means you’re not supposed to be flying around in the sky, as it is sacred. The sky is considered a living, holy being, referred to as “Her”. Thus, in order to escape the planet, you’d need to fly through the sky to get out into space, which is complete sacrilege.
The Sky Reverends won’t allow this.
Harper is a young man, a native of Skyland who has been raised in the faith of the Sky Reverends. But does he really believe?
His own father has raised him to believe that evacuating the planet goes against everything they believe. So much so that he is expected to give his own life to commit an act of terrorism against the evacuation ships. Essentially the Sky Reverends expect him and others to be suicide bombers to prevent the ships from flying through the sky and leaving.
Harper travels with his Dad and his girlfriend Zara to board the ships. Except, in an act of courage (or is it cowardice?), Harper breaks off from the plan, takes his girlfriend and boards the ship, leaving Skyland behind.
Unfortunately this is only the beginning for Harper, and only the beginning of the book.
No Way Out
Not only can Harper not escape from the consequences of his (in) actions, but the people he left behind are not spared, either.
We see the effects of the evacuations on them, as well as the confusion and doubt Harper must face as he struggles with what to believe. He’s already betrayed the Sky Reverends, but does that mean he’s automatically accepting of the Union Proper way of life?
Extreme beliefs play a huge role in the events of the story, even if the characters themselves aren’t extreme believers.
Everything I just wrote about is only the start of the book. You’ll get to see much more of this world. The way of life of the Skylanders and the Union is very detailed, and it feels real. So damn real.
One thing to know about me is that I hate vegetables, so the very thought of subsisting mainly on kale was almost painful for me. Ugh! I’d be outta there quicker than a minute if it meant I could get my hands on a juicy burger!
You can just feel how dry the planet is, and the struggle to survive is captured so well it was making me tired. I was thinking “you guys gotta get the hell outta here!”
Not only that, but the struggle with religion and beliefs is all too real. It’s something that’s happening daily around the world, maybe even in your own backyard or your home. Not to mention that in this day and age, we’re all familiar with the extremist “believe what I believe, or else” types. So when you see how far the Sky Reverends are willing to go to protect “Her” (the sky), you’ll be thinking “Damn, really?”
Oh, yeah. Really.
So this book is sci-fi, but not over the top with it. It’s so grounded that you could actually forget they’re talking about flying between the stars to another planet. Not that I mind that – I like almost all kinds of sci-fi, but I know some folks prefer the sci-fi elements to be a bit muted or play the background in their stories.
The title of this book, is Skyland I: Abominations Extended Edition. So what exactly does “extended” mean?
If you pick up the Extended Edition, you’ll get the benefit of reading the parts that Aelius felt were not exactly necessary to advancing the story, maybe even a bit tangential. These parts appear in strikethrough in the book. It’s a good way to quickly notate that this particular chuck of text didn’t make it into the first edition.
I’ve read books where the author breaks the deleted scene into a separate section, or uses a different font, or one time they listed the deleted text at the end so you had to jump back and forth to fit it into the scene.
Sometimes I would just roll right into the deleted stuff, and other times I would purposefully skip it, then come back when I reached the end of the chapter to see if it made any difference to me. I’d say that she made the right call on what to take out. Although I did appreciate the information or backstory I got, it definitely wasn’t necessary for my understanding of the story.
In additions to the deleted text, Aelius has included her own thoughts on the development of the story as underlined text in between the chapters.
Some people are there strictly for the story, so you can skip these sections without “missing” anything, but being a creator myself I like to read this sort of thing. I can usually identify with the struggle of writers and artists trying to bring their creations to life.
It was in one of these sections where I learned the author actually like kale. I know it’s a trendy vegetable these days, and yes it’s nutritious, but I’ll have none of that. Normally, if someone tries to serve me vegetables I just turn the table over.
But enough about me. Anyway, I think you’ll enjoy some of the “backstory” to the story, and get a kick out of her thoughts and process.
Copyleft. Copywrong. Aaah, f#ck it…
It’s difficult to write about Aelius without bringing up her staunch opposition to copyright.
She feels it’s a stifling influence on creativity, and she definitely puts her money where her mouth is. If you click here to get Skyland, you’ll see that you can download it for free, or if you are so inclined to reward her for her hard work, you can actually purchase a paperback copy using Paypal or Bitcoin (just for disclosure, I reviewed the ebook version).
You really can’t beat that, guys.
The Wrap Up
So that’s a wrap on this one. I really enjoyed reading this, and the sequel is coming out very soon, so there’s that to look forward to.
I’d recommend this book to sci-fi buffs and people who love a good adventure drama.
The universe is fleshed-out and real, and I’m very curious to see what happens next in this world. So be on the lookout for my next review.
And with that, I’m outta here – I’ll see you guys next time!