Under the Empyrean Sky by Chuck Wendig
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Under the Empyrean Sky(The Heartland Trilogy Book 1) by Chuck Wendig
This is one of those books I might not just pick up and check out; so I admittedly have gotten this through the Kindle Unlimited program and downloaded it to check it out; though it was in the wishlist.
THE CORN REACHES for the land-boat above it, but the corn is slow and the cat-maran is fast. The stretching, yearning stalks hiss against the boat’s bottom, making a white noise that sounds like pollen coming out of a piss-blizzard.
Wendig, Chuck (2013-07-30). Under the Empyrean Sky (The Heartland Trilogy Book 1) (Kindle Locations 61-63). Skyscape. Kindle Edition.
Now the above is probably why I put this in the wish list and didn't just buy it and start reading. Don't get me wrong-this is great imagery; it's just when it gets to piss-blizzard and I wandered off to try to find out what a piss-blizzard might be that it lost me back then.
This time I read through and--guess what--within context of the story there is a definition for piss-blizzard.
I think originally I felt like I'd stepped into a Ken Kesey novel or maybe something like a Richard Farina novel maybe some wierd spinoff of Been Down So Long Looks Like Up To Me. But then there are these blizzards caused by the pollen from the corn and they get pretty violent up your nose kind of yellow fog blizzard that are called piss-blizzard so that makes more sense than thinking Richard Farina has started to write science fiction Dystopia.
This is no ordinary corn this super corn engineered to be prolific and meant to be used in all sorts of applications from fuel to feed. But there is some bit of foreboding here when there is talk of the blight afflicting humans and how it slowly takes over the body until it squeezes the life out of the people. Better to take them out and burn them before everyone else is infected. But is there more to it than that and could this be tied to the use of corn for beer and alcohol and perhaps even linked to Cael's fathers rather simple warning that it's best not to imbibe in too many or anything that is made with the corn.
In the above quote the whole begining of the novel sounds like quite good imagery with corn reaching and yearning. And since I had stopped there once; it stayed that way in my mind for quite some time, but I soon found that this was more literal than literary. This corn seems to have a life of its own and if you get left out there too long and start napping you could easily become just that much more fodder for its purpose. This corn is worse than crabgrass as it reaches out takes hold and moves into the surrounding area choking out everything.
Life on the ground is structured around the control and harvesting of this corn. The villages of people who live amongst the corn receive some token support and reward in the harvesting of the corn, though I was a bit confused about what they actually have to do with that harvest since the corn seemed to be harvested by automated machinery. And when that machinery breaks down the villagers don't so much repair it as scavenge from it. So quite basically as the villagers have a transient vagrant sector that scavenge off of them they scavenge off the machinery of the Empyreans who live in the sky. So is it any wonder they are treated often like rats and just barely tolerated.
The Corn and the society seem to be threads of a plot that might run throughout the series where the central plot of this novel might be the lives of some of the people in the villages amongst the corn. In a way its all about the lives of the 'children of the corn'[my name for them-not the author's]. And that moniker might be quite appropriate to where the plot begins to guide me as a reader into the near horror in the story.
If I have a niggle in this novel it might be how it seems to take society backwards or maybe sidling depending on how one views our society today. Of course this is fiction so the author may take it any direction he chooses. It just seems to me that there are some opportunities for some strong female characters that get tossed aside for what seems like the usual male dominated tropes. This would be alright if wasn't for the fact that the plot now is driven by this male need to acquire the female. In this instance it is Gwennie who has been the stabilizing influence in Cael's team of scavengers and there is a whole relationship thing between the two that is tragically doomed when the marriage lottery that the village does matches Gwennie with Boyland, who is Cael's arch enemy. And at this point Gwennie's value plummets while the two men begin a slow dance of rivalry.
But this whole society works that way and I soon find that Cael may be on the road to repeating history. There is some potential for another girl, Wanda Mecklin, who is the one who wins Cael as a potential mate; but once again she is cast aside to move the plot forward. And there is Cael's sister Merelda who has potential to be strong and show up that way, but she disappears from the story quickly. So this becomes a male dominated story, which is not so much a problem as an observation. Then there is Proctor Agrasanto from the sky city who is a villain-ness so she has to come off tough; but even so, she constantly seems to want to be somewhere else rather than preforming her duties. So even though the women seem to be an important part of a plot point they also seem to come off as mostly window dressing which tends to weaken the whole plot point for me.
Setting those concerns aside this is still a very well written book that captured my interest enough for me to finish in one sitting. I hope that we see a brighter future for the women in the story toward reaching their potential, but I will be looking toward the next novel to find where the other threads are taking the larger story.
This is strong SFF in a classic sense with some fresh notions and a few of the usual tropes that should keep the average reader entertained for one sustained sitting.
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