As great as science fiction is for presenting heady concepts based on technology the world doesn’t yet have at its disposal or exploring alien worlds, it is often at its best when it reflects the world around us, when it has something to say about life on Earth. While Echogenesis by Gary Gibson indeed presents a heady concept set on an alien world, it also provides an interesting look at the human condition, presented through the group dynamics at the novel’s core.
Telling the story of fifteen characters through the eyes of the protagonist Sam Newman (a rather unfortunate name for those of us in Australia, given the shared name with former Australian Rules football player/local idiot, Sam Newman), who find themselves stranded on a strange planet light years from home with no idea how they got there. Complicating matters, they are each in their physical prime; in most cases, this means their bodies are far younger than they remember. As the characters fight for survival in this alien land, they—and particularly Sam—work to find out what happened to them, figure out a way of returning home, and navigate their different personalities and worldviews.
As the point of view character throughout the novel, Sam is an engaging character, and somebody who is entertaining to follow. With fourteen other main characters to follow, Gibson doesn’t have a great deal of space to put a large amount of focus on them, but each character fulfils their role in the story, as well as in the group, with their various dynamics on display. While the novel doesn’t dig deep into the individual personalities, their interactions throughout—positive and negative—feel honest and keep the reader turning the pages.
With fifteen characters, there are a lot of voices for the book to juggle, particularly as each of them has their moment to shine. The dialogue for each of these characters sounds natural and flows well, with each of the characters sounding distinct from one another. With the novel’s focus on exploring its characters, it would have been easy for a few of them to get lost in the shuffle, but each one was expertly written. At points, Echogenesis is dialogue-heavy, with multiple characters all having their say, but these passages are written well, making it easy for the reader to follow along.
After starting the first chapter, Gibson’s prose presented a story filled with mystery, presented in a discombobulating style that sits with Sam’s own discombobulation. Soon, the narrative expands so we learn more about Sam and his situation, and the characters throughout. The prose is clean and clear throughout and easy to follow, although, throughout the book, it isn’t as inventive as the very beginning. While maintaining the style from its outset wouldn’t have served the book as well, I would have liked it if more inventive prose was used at later points in the story.
Throughout Echogenesis, Gibson presents an alien world, with an otherworldly landscape and creatures throughout it. With the focus being on the characters and their interactions, it is less concerned with describing the world they’re residing in. This works for an insular story about the characters and the mystery surrounding their arrival on the planet, but I would have appreciated a little more focus on presenting this alien world. The reader understands that the planet is unlike Earth because the prose and characters tell them that, but the book doesn’t give the reader a true sense of how alien the landscape is.
If the book spent a bit more time exploring the world and showing the reader how different the planet is to Earth, Echogenesis would be a slightly longer novel. As it is, it’s a fairly taut 358 pages in paperback / 292 pages in hardcover (the discrepancy is due to the page sizes in each version; for eBook readers it’s 259 pages). At this length, it’s an easy read, one that I finished in a single sitting. Through its length, the author tells a concentrated tale that doesn’t deviate from its main narrative. In doing so, the plot moves forward quickly, and the mystery builds across the pages as it reaches its conclusion.
From its outset, Echogenesis builds its mystery wonderfully. Characters posit various theories about what could be happening, and no matter what happens in the story (whether it’s the moments between characters, threats or action sequences stemming from those threats), the book questions why the characters are stranded on the planet, how they got there in the first place, and why they’re there. It’s a great hook that Gibson exploits beautifully, and the resolution is well-earned. It leads into a final sequence that brings the book full circle, making for a satisfying ending. The ending poses questions that work well by not being resolved in the book, but could also be explored should the author decide to write a sequel.
Echogenesis is an entertaining science fiction story, but it’s also a character study about how people thrown into a situation they are ill-prepared for will handle it. Backing all this up is a wonderful mystery that has a fantastic resolution. While I would have liked the prose to have explored the alien world in a little more depth, it remains an engrossing read. I’ll soon be reviewing the author’s latest offering, Proxy (look for that review on Wednesday), and based on the strength of Echogenesis, I can’t wait to read it.
The last thing he remembered, he had been walking through a crowded street market in some Asian city composed of slab-like conurbs, their rooftops obscured by low clouds. The air had smelled of kimchi and spiced tofu, and he recalled how close and warm and humid the air had been, and how his shirt stuck to the small of his back in the sweltering late evening heat.
And now he was here, wherever the hell here was, without any clear sense of how he had got from one place to the other. And if not for the—sunlight?—streaming through that tiny window, he’d have had every reason to think he’d been buried alive.Echogenesis, Chapter 1: “The Lander”
Echogenesis was provided by the author for the purpose of an honest review.
Echogenesis is available in physical and eBook forms from book retailers (including—but not limited to—Amazon), and Kindle (exclusive to Amazon). An audiobook version is also forthcoming.
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Interested in purchasing Echogenesis?
Please find a link below; please note I do not collect any proceeds from the sale.Echogenesis