BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Former starship pilot Titus Quinn is coerced into returning to the mysterious realm, the Entire, by the Miranda corporation. Miranda wants Titus to discover a way to use the Entire as a shortcut for interstellar travel. Titus has other ideas.
PROS: Unique setting both physically and societally; Titus Quinn is a compelling anti-hero.
CONS: Some clunky writing; a drawn out ending; weaker secondary characters.
BOTTOM LINE: Bright Of The Sky effortlessly blends science fiction concepts and world-building with fantasy story telling to create a unique and intriguing whole.
Bright Of The Sky starts out with a riveting action sequence, where the Appian II space platform suddenly and catastrophically malfunctions. As the crew desperately race to evacuate, Helice Maki tries to discover why the AI in charge of the station has re-assigned all computing resources to chasing down phantom particles that have resulted from a lab experiment. This is our first inkling of the Entire, a separate universe from ours, that never the less intersects with ours at seemingly random locations. These intersections allow for interaction between the two universes, and it is particles from these interactions that caused the Appian II AI to obsess over them.
Helice takes this information back to Earth. The Miranda Corporation has been losing star ships at an alarming rate and a new, safer method of interstellar travel must found. One that doesn’t rely on black holes. One that takes a short-cut through the other universe. On Earth is Titus Quinn, former Miranda starship pilot. Titus was drummed out of Miranda after the destruction of his ship, of which he was the only known survivor. Titus appeared on a remote mining planet, claiming to have been in another universe, the Entire, for 10 years, even though only several weeks had passed. Additionally, he was convinced that his daughter, who, along with his wife, were also on the ship, was still in the Entire and that his wife had died there. All other memories of his time there had been erased. Helice and Miranda Corp. desperately need Titus to go back to the Entire to try and find a safe way for humans to travel to the stars. With the data from the Appian II platform, Miranda has been able to create a prototype device to travel to the Entire. They use the lure of Sydney, his daughter, and threats against his surviving family members to convince Titus to go back to the Entire to try and secure travel rights for humanity with the Tarig, the lords of the Entire. Titus, however, intends to rescue his daughter.
After a rousing start, Bright Of The Sky moves at a much more sedate pace, as events and information slowly unfold. The machinations of Miranda become clear to us and Titus, but the lure of rescuing his daughter and the stick of the threats against his family force Titus into returning. Far from being a hero, Titus begins that story being a self-absorbed hermit, wallowing in his own self pity over the accident, the loss of his wife and daughter, and his expulsion from Miranda. He has become a bitter, unsociable man, difficult to talk to, and is really not a pleasant person, an anti-hero. Still, Kenyon has done a very good job in writing Titus. Even with all of his faults, Titus is a sympathetic figure. We know something happened to him. Something terrible and frightening enough to cause him to lose his memories. Something not necessarily of his doing. Who wouldn’t fall into bitter recluse? Plus, you can’t help but pull for him as tries to rescue his daughter. Even if his actions later in the book are unexpectedly dark, like Thomas Covenant in Lord Foul’s Bane.
Titus Quinn is, by the far, the strongest character present. All the others aren’t as fleshed out as he is. From the conservative Yulin, ruler of a local Chalin (human-like alien) dominion, his scheming wife, Anzi, who becomes Quinn’s guide, and even to the Tarig lords themselves. None of them are given as much attention as Quinn. This leads to the secondary characters ready to throw in with Quinn and betray the Entire seemingly at a whim. Sure, the Entire isn’t as idyllic as it seems on the surface, but those who do help Quinn just seem to do so against expectations. Just a little oddness in an otherwise interesting story.
Quinn is the main focus story wise, but a close second is the Entire itself. Kenyon has create a very unique setting to tell her story in. The Entire basically tunnels through our universe, existing everywhere but only actually touching in a few, mobile areas. These areas are called ‘reaches’ in the Entire, and they are stationary there. Also, time seems to move at a faster clip in the Entire than in our universe. Put together, they make the Entire a perfect shortcut to move around our universe. Physically, the Entire is a ‘landlocked’ universe. As big as ours, but with no interstellar space. It’s basically one large land area, mostly empty, with pockets of civilization. The Tarig created the Entire for purposes of their own, and populated it with beings they patterned after those they saw in our universe,which they call the Rose. The Chalin sway, where Titus appears, is modeled after feudal China, and lends an exotic yet oddly familiar feel to that portion of the Entire. Each sway is contained in a larger swatch of ‘land’ called a primacy. The primacies radiate away from a central ‘ocean’ where the great city, and power base of the Tarig, the Ascendency resides. Travel between primacies is accomplished by navitars who pilot ‘boats’ on the river Nigh, which is made of something like water, but stranger. The outside boundaries of the Entire are storm walls. Huge walls of exotic matter the keep people from leaving the Entire. Above lies the Bright. A self-illuminating ‘sky’ that is constantly filled with roiling clouds. The Bright provides illumination, and it never gets dark in the Entire, just twilight. How the Tarig power something this vast is unknown, but it serves as a large plot point near the end of the book which changes the course of Quinn’s quest.
I chose quest for a reason. Make no mistake, while Kenyon has written a science fiction novel, the actual story structure is more like that of a fantasy book. Titus is engaging on a quest. Two, in fact. The first, to find and save his lost daughter. The second is to save humanity, and our universe, from an implacable enemy. This second quest can also be seen in terms of space opera, and gives Bright Of The Sky and interesting mix of fantasy and science fiction tropes. The whole book has that feel, with its weird mix of high and low tech and its feudal seeming form of governance. Kenyon manages to mix these two disparate genres well. Not as adroitly as Gene Wolfe, but certainly well enough to impress with her world-building.
Two things bothered me, though. The first I chalk up to the fact the book I read was an advance reading copy. There were a couple of areas where I felt the paragraphs didn’t flow together well. In fact, one spot had the same thought being repeated, almost word for word, within two sentences. There was also some clunky writing used to describe Titus’ feelings during his stay in the Ascendency. Hopefully that was tidied up with more editing. Secondly, though, the ending of the story just seemed to keep going. In fact it felt like the ending Return Of The King, there were three of them. Kind of annoying to reach a seeming ending point, only to have more story left. But not enough to be a big drag.
Kay Kenyon has created a standout novel in Bright Of The Sky. I’m looking forward to the rest of series.