This book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
10.12.20 / Science-Fiction / Gollancz / Paperback / 384pp / 978-1473228542
Target Audience: Those who enjoy compelling near-futuristic space adventures filled with excellent detail, meaningful themes and the highest stakes possible.
The year is 2069, and the earth is in flux. Whole nations are being wiped off the map by climate change. Desperate for new resources, the space race has exploded back into life.
Corporations seek ever greater profits off-world. They offer immense rewards to anyone who can claim space’s resources in their name. The bounty on a single asteroid rivals the GDP of entire countries, so every trick, legal or not, is used to win.
Jack, the scion of a shipping magnate, is desperate to escape earth and joins a team chasing down an asteroid. But the ship he’s on is full of desperate people – each one needing the riches claiming the asteroid will bring them, and they’re willing to do anything if it means getting there first.
Because in Space, there are no prizes for coming second. It’s all or nothing: riches beyond measure, or dying alone in the dark.
“Jack had soon stopped trying to defend himself to his captain, justify why he’d given up what he’d had for what he had now. The dark. The light. The cold and the heat. The ever-present hum. The terrible food and sleeting radiation. The bone-thinning, muscle-wasting low gravity. The water that passed, endlessly recycled, through their bodies. The fractious interpersonal bonds between disparate, ill-matched people with dubious motives and dirty pasts. May. Threading a ship through the emptiness of space to exactly the right place at exactly the right time at exactly the right speed. ‘Yes, sir,’ said Jack. ‘But then I would have missed all this'” Gallowglass p96
In recent years S. J. Morden has been really delving into humanity’s near-future space capabilities through fascinating narratives. The most prominent being his One Way series which sees convict Frank on our first mission to Mars to establish Mars Base One. As soon as I saw Gallowglass I was ecstatic! I was instantly curious about what kind of story S. J. Morden could be crafting next.
I wasn’t expecting a story about a young man attempting to escaping his parents suffocating grasp by fleeing in the deep perilous void of space. Joining a rag-tag crew to get as far from earth (as well as his parents money and influence) as possible and becoming embroiled in a disastrous undertaking that leads him down a path of humiliation, fear and untold consequences. Seeing that same young man evolve over the course of three distinctive acts that all feel unique yet tie together. Thus creating an ambitious, satisfying and thought-provoking tale of wealth, climate change, desperation and courage in the face of adversity.
All fleshed out with S. J. Morden’s effortless and superbly refined science-fiction that is a pleasure to read. Even in the heavily technical sections. SJM loves detail but in an organic way that adds depth to characters experience, usually in their panic, distress or (sometimes) wonderment. He doesn’t just reel off jargon and expect the reader to pick it up with ease. SJM writes in an intuitive way that allows the reader to participate in an almost plausible space adventure that is full of surprises.
But even if you aren’t that fussed about the technical aspects of existing in space then Morden provides more than enough danger and interesting human interactions to keep the reader engaged and increasingly nervous. SJM loves to zero in on one character and really elaborate on their perspective on the world, or void, around them. Jack Van Der Veerden is no exception to this rule. There are plenty of other cast members that range from scary to admirable, with many flavours in between, but Jack is the main event.
And his journey is a harsh one. Seeing him evolve from a naïve rich kid to a hardened astronaut is definitely compelling. As he spends more and more time away from earth, interacting with all manner of human beings, it is easy to invest in his journey. There is also a (sort of) minor character who is the most significant, in my opinion, to the story. Cat Gallowglass beat the odds, did some terrible things and managed to stake claim to enormous wealth to try to save her country from being swallowed by the advancing oceans encouraged by climate change. I thought a lot of her character over the course of the novel.
Jack and Cat’s plot is a cautionary tale about how independence is important but the grass is not always greener on the other side. Well, if grass existed in space that is. Climate change is a huge theme in this book. SJM examines the effects of global warming over the course of the novel both in the narrative and out of it.
That leads me to my one and only complaint about Gallowglass. Before each chapter there is a quote in support or denial of the facts of climate change and the ensuing consequences. Some people might see this as an interesting and vital debate on the matter (which is an important one) but I found it too jarring. Each quote took me far out of my immersion in the story and by about halfway through I stopped reading them all together. That was a personal choice but it really helped my reading experience flow without them.
SJM is constantly pushing the boundaries of realistic science-fiction accounts of humanity’s progression towards the stars and bringing some excellent characters to life in the process. I feel like Gallowglass is the perfect example of how much great story-telling, whether it be daring, fearsome or heartfelt, means to SJM and how much vivid and captivating detail he brings to the table. SJM writes about space exploration with so much passion it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement, and risks, of our future as a species. I am glad to be recommending Gallowglass to you all in this review. Invest some time in S. J. Morden’s work whether it be Gallowglass or One Way and see what I mean.
About S. J. Morden
Dr S. J. Morden has won the Philip K. Dick Award and been a judge on the Arthur C. Clarke Award. He is a bona fide rocket scientist with degrees in Geology and Planetary Geophysics. ONE WAY is the perfect fusion of his incredible breadth of knowledge and ability to write award-winning, razor-sharp science fiction.