I think of Mary Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein, to be the first science fiction novel. Prior to this time, stories (mostly in poetic or theatrical formats) were mythologies and legends from the Greek and Roman pantheons, Nordic epics, and lives of saints, or Renaissance reiterations of those tales. These were dominated by fantastic powers of gods and their interchanges with humans, much like our superhero stories (mostly in comic books and movie formats) are today.
But, science fiction would not have the philosophical context until the 18th century Enlightenment fascination with observable data, and the 19th century concern with the effects of industrial revolution on society. Science fiction is inherently enamored with how the application of the laws of physics, chemistry, etc. may bring fantastic powers to humanity, but also with cautionary tales of how those power may lead to dystopian results. Mike Mallow dreamed up such a tale in his new sci-fi novel, Heartspark.
Who is Mike Mallow, you might ask? And, why would I have this novel show up in my reading queue?
As my regular readers know, I like to support ambitious, new writers, especially local ones. Mr. Mallow works at our local county newspaper creating the graphics. He has a keen imagination and a pretty good commute each day on back roads of West Virginia. That probably gave him plenty of time to construct his tale and figure out the possibilities of scientific principles in his futuristic solar system, the Eco Suite.
I will avoid spoilers with too detailed of a plot summary. I will just say that the book kept my attention and I finished it in less than a week — sort of science fiction for my style of distracted reading.
The story revolves around a solar system that is getting consumed by a black-hole, or at least that is the official story line. I’ll let the curious readers discover what is really behind this planetary diet. The final planet in this system is days away from destruction. That leaves the people on the planet in chaos. Those who have wealth have mostly left. An organized crime group is taking advantage of the refugee crisis to extract what wealth and slaves they can get out of the situation. Criminals attract bounty hunters, which sets up the primary conflict of the story. This also sets the motivation for about 100 pages of chase scenes and blowing things up.
The second hundred pages gives more of the details about how this situation arose, now that we have eliminated a number of surplus characters, and clarified who is important to keep the chase going until the end of the book (as well as survivors who can propel us in the sequel book-s). More importantly, this section of the book give us more the principles of how science, industrialization, and human nature culminate in destroying a planetary system.
One aspect that I liked about Heartspark is that Mr. Mallow does not use futuristic, fanciful science to solve the problems of space travel, etc. No jumping into warp speed or hyperspace, just because we need to move characters from Point A to Point B in a paragraph or two. No, travel between this and that planet takes years. That requires scientific possibilities and problems of how do humans tolerate that duration of travel, stock enough food and water, etc. Also, no one has special energy crystals to power their vehicles that allow the characters to zip about the landscape or achieve escape velocity to fly about. Fossil fuels, beat up pick-up trucks, dominate the landscape as much as space ships. We do not need to suspend belief to give-a-pass to characters who can tap into cosmic energy in order to avoid all the bullets (no blasters with spiffy color energy beams to turn bad guys into dust). Yes, some characters have bionic legs and eyes, etc, but Mr. Mallow gives a background as how these have come about.
If you would like to let your imagination go for a ride, blow up lots of stuff, wrestle with bad guys, question who is really the good-guys (and gals) and bad-guy (yeah, mostly men), and ponder what a mess we can get into, go to Amazon.com and order yourself a copy. UPS will deliver it using fossils fuel technology.
Or, you can just tune into FOX News and CNN and ponder whether walls are useful, or if we have just created refugee crises in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and Asia…