The Beginning by Paul Vincent
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Beginning (Astronomicon)by Paul Vincent
I found this novel or set of novels to be entertaining. It has an interesting premiss that brings it close to notions captured in the novel 2001 Space Odyssey. But it starts out more like some typical first expedition chronicle. What I found difficult to swallow was the large cast of characters that are there in that hazy area characters get stuck in when dealing with a horror novel that promises to have a lot of scares and thrills.
In a way it's fitting that this is like a horror novel since the Astronomicon seems to derive out of the fictional term Necronomicon created by a horror classic great H.P. Lovecraft. So the first novel or part of this novel involves a long slow journey across a desolate cold planet woven together like a sort of mix of Eiger Sanction by Trevanian and Treasure of the Sierra Madre by B. Traven.
We start out on the Elysian-a vessel that will take a group of settlers of around 60 people to Proxima 3 around Proxima Centauri in the Alpha Centauri System(4.367 light year away). Everyone will be in stasis-frozen- for the thirteen year flight at speeds close to the speed of light. There will be three other ships headed out each for a different location. What is not really made clear is the reason mankind has chosen to send colonists that far and why split them up and why such a small number of settlers. The last might be explained in that there are more ships planned for later although you would think that if they were to be totally committed to this it would be cost effective to send as many as they can and send supplies in other ships. But you would also think they would concentrate on one planet at a time.
So to spice things ups and just like with the Jupiter 2 there is the threat of possible terrorist who want the missions to fail. These take the form of religious zealots-of course. So just before he gets into the freezer Chris our MC gets a message about a possible mole among the settlers which he can do nothing about at the moment but he's informed that Earth will notify him with more clues to help him when he thaws in approximately 13 years.
Just prior to entry to the system and readiness to slow to an entry orbit the Elysian suffers damage from what is supposed to have been a comet. Chris and a few others are brought out early and they lose one member to an explosion caused by a bomb. They thaw a few more people and hunt for more bombs as they speed toward their goal. They send the next bomb outside and possibly get some external damage when that blows. Then for some reason they seem to have no option but to land on the surface of the planet and send a distress signal although it would seem to have made more sense to just stay in orbit and wait there if help could come.
Nothing is definite because they have to communicate with Earth and somehow someone must decide if they should divert one of the other ships to rescue them Elysian so perhaps that drives the decision to land, which goes all way of bad and they crash, but not before they split the craft into three section and leave most of their survival gear strewn behind them. They have the entire group thawed out for the landing and the disaster takes a large portion of group.
This is where it starts to get like the Eiger Sanction. Chris and a group of the uninjured survivors must make a trek along the deadly terrain to retrieve the things they need to survive. Somehow after having been explosively separated during entry these parts may have survived the impact and remained intact so they can retrieve the supplies from them. Of course the terrain and the very cold atmosphere begin to slowly whittle down the team until they are down to a handful of which somehow the mole has survived. For me there was a bit of disappointment about who the mole was and then how dramatically they change from the character portrayed throughout. But it's all in the spirit of creating the conflict that leads to resolution and were close to the end of the first part which was called Voyage of the Elysian.
The second part(Discovery) departs from the excitement of the first and begins that quest that follows some parallels to 2001 Space Odyssey.
The colonists of the planet are from three of the four ships. One was destroyed and the other two were diverted to rescue the remnants of the survivors of Elysian. On this planet after a generation of new people are born; man finds an alien artifact.(I have some question as to why the first baby was born three years after they colonize, but that's just me.) Earth has ceased all colonization and the Colonist have been on their own and when they contact Earth about the possibility of alien artifacts they are not well received or believed. Earth is having it's own problems and even the colonization of the solar system is being backpedaled to Earth isolation.
This part of the story seems to be mostly filler and world building for the remainder of the books to come.
Both parts have strong stories that have been used before and have been successful in the past and this could well have maintained a 5 star for me if the second half could have survived the distancing that was set as the pace for the first half.
I think because the first was story of the rugged new planet and the survivors of a crash trying to survive the harsh environment the reader gets the planet as a major player and that eclipses the main characters. Add to that that one of those at the very least has to be the traitor and you have this distancing from the main characters that never really gets the reader into any of the characters leaving the plot the story and the scenes to carry the whole and it works well for the first story. It seems to stick with the reader into the second story and even though we Still have Chris and Kate from the first story there is no real settled character that the reader is allowed to zero in on. So once again the plot the story and scene and technology have to carry the story and this time the astronomicon just doesn't do it.
We have a monolith type block that seem impenetrable and a bit obtuse painting a picture where there is some great old race that created it and has seeded the universe with intelligent life for some obscured reason that we won't get cleared up about in these two parts. It all begins to sound like that shadow race of Babylon 5 who want to set the seeded intelligences against each other as the one means of survival of the fittest. Only so far it's not even that clear yet; only that there seems to be a goal of setting intelligent races against each other.
Meanwhile mankind is doing a fair job against itself in the solar system.
There are a lot of good ideas drawn together here in an ambitious stepping stone to a larger series which I will be interested in following.
This is good stuff for the SFF fans and even the (Simon purists) although there are some caveats with that; where realism is stretched a bit thin. There's at least one rapid decompression scene that's more reminiscent of Arnold's character in Total Recall than in reality. (honestly-do not hold your breath it will just make it more painful and damage more quickly.) Well to be honest I have not yet tried this so I can't say from experience.
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